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Global Solar Capacities

At the end of 2016 photovoltaic plants with an output of 303 GW were installed worldwide. It is expected that the annual increase will reach 100 GW by 2020 and that the installed capacity will reach between 3,000 and 10,000 GW by 2030.

OECD Electricity Generation

The contribution of renewable energy to electricity generation in the OECD was 2,781.8 TWh in 2017, which was 24.9% of all electricity generated by all energy sources.

Electricity Generation in OECD countries from all sources in 2017

Source% totalTWh
Natural gas27%737.6
Other non RE*0.8%21.9
Biofuels and Waste2.8%76.5
Solar PV2.5%68.3
Other RE**0.6%16.4
* non-renewable wastes, fuel cells and chemical heat ** solar thermal, geothermal and tidal

The most inhabited areas of the Earth's surface receive between 150 and 300 watts per square metre of solar energy (insolation).

2016 has seen close to 75 GW of additional installed PV capacity worldwide, a staggering 50 % above 2015 and raising the cumulative installed capacity to about 300 GW.

Installed capacity

In 2016, the total installed capacity of photovoltaic plants worldwide was 303 GW. Market trends suggest the annual increase will reach 100 GW by 2020, providing an installed capacity by 2030 of at least 3 TW. One TW (terawatt) is equal to 1000 GW (gigawatt), or one million MW (megawatt), or one billion kW (kilowatt), or a thousand billion watts. The watt is the S.I. unit for electrical power, and is equal to one joule per second.

303 GW is close to the capacity of all of the nuclear power stations (c. 450) operating in the world today. It is one-third of coal power generation, half of natural gas, and twice oil generation. the main difference between these capacities is the intermittency of solar energy. This means that the power can only be generated from a solar panel when that panel is exposed to sunlight. In the centre of Germany, there are approximately 900 hours of full-load sunlight available per year. With its 40 GW of installed solar capacity, Germany could therefore be expected to generate

In 2014, the global market share of crystalline silicon cells was about 90%. According to forecasts, silicon cells will continue to be the dominant photovoltaic technology in the long term and will be the "workhorse" of power generation together with wind power plants.

The Earth receives 122 PW (1.070 EWh per year) of solar energy at its surface. The Sun offers 7,500 times more energy than the entire anthropogenic demand. We would need to tap into just 0.013% of available solar energy (0.44% over land) to replace all other energy sources.*

The electromagnetic radiation of the sun can be used by photovoltaic plants or solar collectors to generate heat or electricity.

When the solar radiation arrives at the earth's atmosphere, the average intensity is 1,367 kW / m2 (solar constant). After reflection, absorption, and conversion processes as the sunlight passes through the atmosphere, an average of about 330 W/m2 (24% of the solar constant) is incident at the earth's surface over 12 hours per day.

Humans consumed 505,000 petajoules primary energy in 2010. 17% of this was for electricity generation. The market value of global energy consumed in 2015 was approximately 9.1 trillion US dollars.

Photovoltaic cells convert solar radiation energy to electricity at an efficiency of about 15-20%
    Useful facts:
  • Total surface area of the Earth: 510,000,000 km²
  • Water surface: 360,570,000 km² (70.7 %)
  • Land surface: 149,430,000 km² (29.3 %)
  • Surface used by agriculture: 48,827,330 km² (9.6 %)
  • Area covered by forest: 40,204,320 km² (7.9 %)

Share of Utility Scale Solar

The proportion of solar PV in small-scale (rooftop) compared to utlity-scale (solar farms) varies greatly between countries. Some examples:

  • India: 88% utility
  • China: 82% utility
  • US: 54% utility
  • Spain: 40% utility
  • Germany: 27% utility
  • Australia: 3% utility
    OECD % of total elec production in 2017
  • Coal = 27.5%
  • Natural gas = 27.0%
  • Nuclear = 17.8%
  • Oil = 2.1%
  • Other = 0.8% (non-RE wastes, fuel cells and chemical heat)
  • RE: 24.9% Hydro = 12.8%
  • Wind = 6.4%
  • Biofuels and waste = 2.8%
  • Solar PV = 2.5%
  • solar thermal, geothermal and tide = 0.6%

Asian solar installed capacity

Cumulative installed capacity PV and generated PV power (2017)

  • China: 131.0 GW, 108.2 TWh
  • Japan: 49.0 GW, 62.3 TWh
  • India: 19.0 GW, 21.5 TWh
  • South Korea: 5.6 GW, 6.4 TWh
  • Thailand: 2.7 GW, 3.6 TWh
  • Taiwan: 1.7 GW, 1.7 TWh

Cumulative installed capacity PV and generated PV power (2017)

  • China: 131.0 GW, 108.2 TWh
  • Japan: 49.0 GW, 62.3 TWh
  • India: 19.0 GW, 21.5 TWh
  • South Korea: 5.6 GW, 6.4 TWh
  • Thailand: 2.7 GW, 3.6 TWh
  • Taiwan: 1.7 GW, 1.7 TWh

Cumulative installed capacity PV and generated PV power (2017)

  • China: 131.0 GW, 108.2 TWh
  • Japan: 49.0 GW, 62.3 TWh
  • India: 19.0 GW, 21.5 TWh
  • South Korea: 5.6 GW, 6.4 TWh
  • Thailand: 2.7 GW, 3.6 TWh
  • Taiwan: 1.7 GW, 1.7 TWh


As in 2015, China, the USA and Japan represented the largest markets in 2016, accounting for three quarters of the additional installed capacity in these three countries alone. Meanwhile, two-thirds of the global PV capacity is being installed in the Asia-Pacific region with China ahead of all others at more than 34 GW of installed capacity in 2016. 24 countries have now reached cumulative installed capacities above 1 GW, 16 countries installed at least 500 MW during 2016 and in at least 27 countries, PV contributes with 1 % or more to the annual electricity supply. In 2017, PV will be contributing to roughly 2 % of the world’s electricity generation.

China has an ambitious plan to expand its solar lead, by adding 15-20 GW of capacity each year over the period of its current 5-year plan (2015-2020). This will bring its total installed solar power generation capacity to 140 GW by 2020, compared to world capacity of over 300 GW at end of 2016.






The United States invented grid power supply systems. Once the battle of the currents had been won by Nicola Tesla and Westinghouse, AC was generated by the first hydropower plants for New York.

Of the 80,000 dams in the USA, only 2,500 are used to generate electricity. There is enormous potential left untapped in the 97% unused dams.

The full potential of the Ohio River Basin is 3.2 GW - equivalent to 4-8 coal-powered stations or 3 nuclear power stations.

The USA has possibly 12GW potential in its unpowered dams (Oak Ridge National Lab). This would generate 45 TWh p.a., or 1% of national needs.

California in 2017 has 3.266 GW installed solar capacity, enough to power 3.7 million homes at 880 kW per household.










Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazahstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Other

Total CIS Solar power generation 2017 = 1.3 TWh