IEA: China, Japan, U.S. leading solar energy boom

(Sam Hodgson/Bloomberg)
(Sam Hodgson/Bloomberg)

The boom in solar energy development across the United States in recent years is part of a worldwide phenomenon.

According to a new report by the International Energy Agency, approximately 50 gigawatts worth of solar panels were installed worldwide last year, a 25 percent increase over 2014.

More than half of that growth came in three countries: China, with 15.3 gigawatts; Japan, with 11 gigawatts; and the United States with 7.3 gigawatts.

The boom comes as countries work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to address rising concerns around climate change. With almost 230 gigawatts of capacity worldwide, solar is expected supply 1.3 percent of global electrical demand this year.

“The super-competitive [solar rates] seen in many countries around the world are sending a clear sign to policymakers that [solar] can now compete with most fossil and nuclear sources of energy,” read the report from IEA, which  represents oil importing countries, largely in North America and Europe. Solar “could contribute significantly to decarbonizing the electricity mix of the planet, sooner than expected and at a reasonable cost.”

While still a minor piece of the global electricity puzzle, solar’s rise has been quick. The amount of global solar capacity today is 10 times what is was in 2009, according to the IEA.

Early on growth largely came in Europe, where governments have heavily subsidized renewable energy sources. But over the past four years, as the cost of solar panels has dropped dramatically, much of the growth has come in Asia and the United States.

The IEA said the market showed no sign of slowing.

“Several Asian countries have announced their intention to continue developing [solar], and the market should continue to develop in North America as well,” the report said.

IEA-PVPS – a Snapshot of Global PV – 1992-2015 – Final