Here in Hourglass article you can find out where solar energy is found in the world and the countries that use solar energy the most.
To make it easer for your understanding, this is divided in subcategories. Starting on how it is found in the nature and how can we transform sun light in electric energy.
After this, you can find a table of major solar panel producers by country and the ones that most use it, with a brief explanation on Australia’s plot twist in 2022, that shocked the world.
To finish the article, check out how this type of renewable and clean energy is collected, stored and used.
Where is solar energy found and how is it recovered?
Solar energy comes from the sun. Explaining for those who don’t understand electricity at all: the sun’s ray hits the plate, which has several solar cells connected by a semiconductor (energy) material.
Every atom has electrons, protons and neutrons. The electrons are in the uppermost part of the atom and have a certain freedom of movement (ask the nearest science teacher).
When the electrons move, they generate the electric current, and this is the logic for any kind of energy.
Solar energy is stored and recovered for use in the same way as electrical energy from other sources: through batteries.
Lithium-ion batteries are the main source these days, and are also used in electric cars, which makes them a station to store the energy produced by the solar photovoltaic generator.
But there are other types of batteries for solar panels. Let’s get to know each one of them.
A pioneer in the use of photovoltaic systems, the lead-acid battery is composed of two electrodes, one of spongy lead and the other of powdered lead dioxide. However, even though they operate in solar energy storage, their high cost does not match their useful life.
Despite the possibility of being recharged several times, the nickel-cadmium battery also has a very high value in comparison with its useful life.
Still, it is mainly used for the operation of devices such as cell phones and camcorders, although it fulfills its role of storing photovoltaic energy in the same way.
Lithium ion battery
With greater power and durability, the lithium ion battery is a viable option for how to store solar energy.
This is possible because it operates reactively with a large amount of energy in increasingly smaller and lighter batteries.
In addition, it is possible to charge only part of the battery and it is not necessary to wait for the battery to fully discharge before recharging, as it has no known “battery addiction”.
In addition to storing solar energy via batteries, many scientists are working on other projects. In China, for example, scientists have created solar energy plates that work even in the rain!
Other researchers have created a semi-artificial photosynthesis with solar energy to generate fuel. This means that solar energy is increasingly being exploited and can be used in many ways!
Where is solar energy found in the world?
These are the top solar energy producers in the world. As you can see, all global economy titans are ahead of this green energy source:
|COUNTRY||CAPACITY (MW)||World’s solar energy production|
Where is solar energy most common?
Most of the solar panels on the planet are produced in China and the United States.
The two giants of the global economy could say that they are ahead in this clean energy input, except for one detail: neither of the two countries is in the ranking of those that most use solar energy.
In the U.S., for example, 73% of carbon emissions come from the energy sector, especially the energy used in industry.
In China, the situation is even worse regarding energy use and CO2 emissions: a shocking 80% of the energy used in the country comes from coal, which is the energy source with the largest carbon footprint.
The country that uses solar panels most for homes and to supply the energy demand of the population is Australia, with 15.50% of the solar energy use on the planet.
Australia being the world leader in the use of solar panels is shocking news to many, but it can be justified for a few practical reasons.
- The country is large.
Australia is huge. It is the sixth largest country in the world in terms of land area.
Its 7 million square kilometers make room for the installation of solar energy farms and its climate, mostly tropical, has strong solar incidence, which facilitates the performance of the panels.
- Climate change and politics
Australia is one of the largest exporters of natural gas in the world.
Its economy was based on the exploitation of coal mines in the east of the country.
It was 2021 when the climate denier, Maurice Newman, who held at that time the post as chairman of the Australian Prime Minister’s advisory council, spoke publicly that “climate change is the bait” for the UN to concentrate political authority in the world.
However, 2022 was an election year in the country and this was the moment when Australia started to get back on track abount the enrionment matter.
The last election put Labor Party in power and brought gains for the Green Party, which gained openness for reforms toward agendas to combat global warming.
One factor that may have greatly influenced the election result is that Australian citizens are already suffering from climate change.
The climate in Australia is becoming uninhabitable. Heavy rains and flooding have caused loss of life and irreparable property damage.
In the last few years alone, hundreds of people have lost their homes to rain.
The effects of climate change are so worrisome that insurance companies are simply refusing to accept housing insurance claims for many residents, as there is not enough insurance coverage to rebuild a house from scratch with every storm.
According ot EnergySage article, other countries ranking where solar energy is most common are Spain, Greece, Honduras, Chile, Germany, and Japan.
Where is solar energy used?
Although the U. S. is the second major producer of solar energy in 2023, the United States is not even in the top 10 of solar energy use in the world. Find in this table 10 countries with most solar panels penetration.
|Country||Solar energy use|
What is solar energy?
Solar energy is considered to be all forms of energy that reach us through the sun’s rays, whether they come from its light or its heat.
Solar energy is considered a renewable energy source, because it renews itself cyclically within the human time scale, and can be divided into photovoltaic and heliothermal types.
The truth is that all forms of energy that we know derive from solar energy.
It is the sun’s energy that alters the physical state of water, causing it to migrate so that it can be dammed and used in hydroelectric plants.
The heating of the air masses causes the winds, which are harnessed in the wind turbines of the wind farms.
It is solar energy, absorbed in photosynthesis, which gives life to the plants used as a source of biomass energy.
Even oil, which comes from the remains of prehistoric vegetation and animals, is also derived from the sun, as it provided the energy necessary for the appearance of life on earth in ages past.
Solar Energy Potential
The energy potential of the sun is so vast that, in one second, the total energy radiated by it is much greater than the energy consumed by mankind since its appearance on the face of the Earth until today.
Solar energy is produced by nuclear reactions that take place deep inside the sun.
In one of these reactions hydrogen atoms combine to form helium atoms and release energy.
This energy travels from the inside of the sun to its surface (called the photosphere), and from there it radiates out in all directions, which is why not all of its energy reaches us.
This radiated energy reaches the earth from space through particles of energy called photons.
Photons travel at a speed of 300,000 km/s, so it takes about 8 minutes for them to reach the earth, which is approximately 150 million kilometers from the sun.
The solar energy that reaches the Earth in one year is much greater than the human consumption of energy in the same period. Unfortunately all this potential is not utilized yet.
Types of solar energy
Solar energy can be used to produce electricity through two systems: heliothermal and photovoltaic.
Photovoltaic solar energy
Photovoltaic solar energy is nothing more than the direct conversion of solar radiation into electrical energy.
This conversion is performed by the so-called photovoltaic cells, composed of semiconductor material, usually silicon.
When sunlight falls on the cells, it causes the movement of electrons in the conductor material, transporting them through the material until they are captured by an electric field (formed by a potential difference existing between the semiconductors). Thus, electricity is generated.
Consisting of panels, modules, and electrical equipment, the photovoltaic system does not require an environment with high radiation to work.
However, the amount of energy produced depends on the density of the clouds, i.e. the fewer clouds there are in the sky, the greater the production of electricity.
This form of obtaining energy, one of the most promising today, has been growing more and more due to the reduction in prices and the incentives offered for countries to adopt renewable energy sources.
Solar heliothermal energy
In the heliothermal system, the energy coming from the sun is transformed into heat, heating, mainly, the water in homes, hotels, and clubs.
To make this possible, solar panels (mirrors, collectors, heliostats) are used, which reflect the sunlight, concentrating it at a single point where there is a receptor.
The receiver is made up of a liquid, which is heated by the sunlight reflected on the panels.
This liquid is responsible for storing heat, heating the water in the power plants and thus producing steam. This steam moves the turbines in the power plants, causing generators to be driven, which produce electrical energy.
Regions with high solar incidence, few clouds, and flat terrain are suitable for solar heliothermal energy production.
How do solar panels work?
The light from the sun is formed by particles of energy that we name as photons. The photovoltaic module, also known as the solar panel, is a set of photovoltaic cells, which, because of the photovoltaic effect can transforming the sun’s energy into electrical energy.
When this energy is collected, it is in the form of direct current (DC), but our power grid uses alternating current (AC). Therefore, the role of the inverter is to convert these currents so that it is possible to use the energy obtained both in electronic devices and to return it to the grid.
In addition, some other equipment is also necessary for the operation of the system, such as the circuit breaker, cables, and the rack.
Photovoltaic panels are composed of semiconductor molecules, usually made of crystalline silicon. In order for these molecules to function within the system, the components are encapsulated within a module, like a “box” for the cells.
This encapsulation is possible due to an aluminum frame, which has a high-strength glass attached. The dark part that we see on the panels, more specifically, is an EVA film to protect the module, not reflect sunlight, and maintain electrical insulation between the cells.
The entire frame of the solar panel is assembled according to its location in order to position the panels in the direction where the light is strongest, with a sufficient angulation to allow the water to run off and not hinder the performance of the structure.
How do we get solar energy?
Generating your own energy, not depending on external factors, is indeed awesome. But, wait, have you ever stopped to think how is energy generation?
The science behind solar energy is kinda simple. Solar panels as we know them are made of solar cells, mostly composed of silicon, arranged in two layers.
During the silicon manufacturing, one of these layers is doped with phosphorus and the other is doped with boron, changing the elements of the materials, leaving one part positive and the other negative.
In this way, when photons – present in solar radiation – meet the photovoltaic cell, they generate energy and transform electrons into conductors.
The flow of electrons between the positive and negative layers causes the cell to generate electrical energy. The current generated in the solar plates is conducted to the photovoltaic inverter.
The inverter transforms the current generated by the panel, making it grid-compatible and available for use.
The system then directs all the energy generated in each of the solar panels to the consumption pattern.
How is solar energy collected?
Generally, solar panels provide electricity to a home without any energy storage device in the way.
However, adding a battery system for solar power (or simply solar battery) has some benefits.
Another advantage is to always have a backup power supply for emergencies, avoiding interruptions if the power grid is down or suffers from some external problem.
Although investing in a battery system increases the final cost of a solar energy installation, these advantages can justify the extra expense.
How do solar batteries work?
When a house does not use all the energy produced by the solar panels, this excess energy will be stored in the batteries.
On the other hand, if the solar panels cannot generate enough energy on a cloudy day, for example, the batteries will discharge, making up the difference.
Solar power batteries usually contain two materials that react when storing or discharging electricity: lead acid, present in the older, cheaper models, and the well-known lithium ion, the most popular type of battery today.
The way in which you set up your solar power system will also affect how the batteries are powered. Here are two hypothetical scenarios:
Discharging the batteries more frequently: best suited in regions with many cloudy days or when an area is “off-grid,” that is, not receiving electricity from any utility.
Managing solar panels, batteries, and electricity all at the same time: In this example, the user can choose when to charge the batteries, or just keep them in reserve, rarely discharging them, and depending on the country, even selling this “excess” electricity back to the power company.
On the downside, perhaps the main one is that batteries, like those in cell phones and laptops, lose their ability to function efficiently over time.
The good news is that manufacturers generally offer a warranty, increasing end-user confidence around the useful life of these systems.
What about solar panel inverters?
Inverters also play an equally important role in how the battery converts solar energy into electricity.
While solar panels generate electricity in direct current (DC), the grid and homes generally use alternating current (AC).
An inverter converts AC to DC or vice versa. Most solar batteries include an inverter to store the energy in DC form, as well as another inverter to convert it back to AC for use in the home.
Finally, it is worth noting that solar power batteries are designed to last a long time, as are the solar panels, which generally have a lifespan of 25 to 40 years.
How much energy do solar panels produce?
First of all, it is important to say that the amount of energy generated by the solar panel varies a lot and is influenced by many factors such as: slope of the roof, sizing, location of the property, size of the system, quality of the equipment, among others.
However, a 200 Wp solar panel, for example, produces around 24kWh to 40 kWh per month (800 to 1300 Wh per day) and around 100 W (or 0.1 kW) to 165 W (or 0.16 kW) per month with a daily consumption of 8 hours.
The photovoltaic modules are capable of absorbing about 20% of the sunlight received. So here we have another factor that significantly influences the generation of photovoltaic energy, which is the peak hours of solar irradiation.
How many solar panels are needed for your home?
Generally, small projects such as residences, for example, require the installation of at least 8 solar panels for a consumption of up to 300 kWh per month. For a small business or shed, we can base around 20 solar panels to meet the demand.
However, these numbers are only an assumption, since each photovoltaic project must be analyzed in a personalized way, because no property consumes the same as another.
In addition, we should also analyze what types of equipment demand monthly energy. For example, about 7 solar panels are needed to supply the energy consumption of the air conditioner, which consumes between 228 kWh and 336 kWh per month. This is taking into account the uninterrupted use of the equipment.