The United States is experiencing a boom in solar energy production. Solar energy is more accessible and affordable in the US now than ever before. The price of solar panels has decreased 70 percent since 2014, and the price of solar-produced electricity is now on par with or cheaper than conventionally produced electricity. Over the past decade, jobs in the solar field have increased 167 percent, for a total of more than 250,000 solar workers in the country. The top states for solar production include California, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Minnesota, and Florida. In some cases, the top states aren’t just sunny but have seen their legislatures purposefully pave the way for the development of solar.
The US federal government does not endorse a dedicated solar strategy, although the Biden administration has made clean energy and solar research and development a strong priority. While the US Department of Energy provides research, much of the infrastructural development of solar occurs at the state level. Therefore, the development of the US solar industry is largely regional in nature. Compared with other countries, how does the US rank in terms of solar infrastructure?
China, The Current Top Producer of Solar Energy
China is the world’s top producer of solar energy, followed by the European Union (EU) bloc, the United States, Vietnam, and Japan. China is the world’s most populous country, with the world’s largest carbon footprint. So, China’s drive to install solar infrastructure is rooted partly in its attempt to curb air pollution in the country. According to the country’s own reporting, China installed 48 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity in 2020, bringing its total that year to 253.6 GW. Leading that growth in China is the installation of solar farms in remote areas of the country. In contrast to the US federal government, the Chinese central government has taken a strong lead in developing solar infrastructure domestically, encouraging financial institutions to incentivize solar.
The European Union and Solar Energy
Its twenty-seven member countries are collectively the second-leading producer of solar energy behind China. In 2020, total solar power capacity in the EU hit over 138 GW, more than half of which came from rooftop installations. The year 2021 saw the third consecutive year of growth in solar output for the EU. In 2022, the European Commission took several decisive steps toward making solar a cornerstone of the bloc’s future energy plans.
Why Vietnam Leads in Solar Energy
The International Energy Agency ranks Vietnam as a leader in solar energy. In 2020, the country produced more than 11 GW of solar energy. Planned developments and strong government backing of solar have pushed output beyond expectations in recent years. In 2020, Vietnam boasted almost 8 percent of the global solar market. As of 2021, the country had more than 101,000 rooftop installations, generating an increase in solar power of 25 fold.
Japan Beats Geographic Constrictions
Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with little room for solar expansion. Yet the country still managed to produce almost 9 GW of new capacity in the year 2020. Solar power has become a national energy priority since the 2011 meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. However, the central government’s strong interest in solar predates 2011; in 2008, the government announced a goal of including solar in 70 percent of new-construction homes. It has taken a feed-in-tariff policy approach. In a feed-in-tariff model, the government tries to increase investment in renewable technologies by offering contracts to renewable-energy producers. The long-term contracts and promise of above-market rates provide certainty and stability for the development of infrastructure.