The rise of the solar energy industry is astounding. Though virtually nothing in the early 2000s, the world’s solar capacity is now at 305 gigawatts. The countries taking the lead in this worldwide solar power surge are the United States and China, with the United Kingdom leading the rest of Europe.
A report compiled by SolarPower Europe notes that both the U.S. and China almost doubled the amount of solar energy they added in 2016 from 2015’s numbers. Just to give an example in the case of the U.S., the state of New York alone has increased its solar power use by more than 800 percent. The 49 other states are also contributing to the growth, with California dominating them all, boasting a 34 percent share of the U.S. market.
As for China, it’s now the world’s largest solar energy producer. Reports from China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) estimate that the country more than doubled its solar energy production in 2016. By last year’s end, China reached 77.42 gigawatts of solar, generating around 66.2 billion kilowatt-hours of power.
In Europe, despite suffering setbacks due to cuts in government incentives for solar adoption, the U.K. managed to increase its solar capacity by 29 percent, with Germany following at 21 percent and France with 8.3 percent.
Solar energy adoption has become increasingly viable due to a notable drop in costs. According to data from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the cost for installing solar-powered systems has dropped by more than 60 percent over the last decade. For one, solar panels have become cheaper, encouraging adoption in a host of other areas apart from roofing.
As the world faces the realities of climate change, with global temperatures hitting another all-time-high record in 2016, efforts to fight the climate problem are now more crucial than ever. One of the ways governments and various groups in the private sector can contribute to this fight is through the increased use of renewable energy sources, like solar energy.
“In order to meet the Paris [climate agreement] targets, it would be important if solar could continue its rapid growth,” explained James Watson, chief executive at SolarPower Europe. “The global solar industry is ready to do that and can even speed up.” To reach the goals of the agreement, half of the world’s energy must be generated from renewables by 2060.
Renewables can also drive the economy forward by providing jobs. In the case of solar energy in the U.S., roughly 209,000 Americans now work in the industry, according to The Solar Foundation. That’s more than double 2010’s figure, and the number is expected to increase to more than 360,000 by 2021. It’s an industry that’s already employing more people than its fossil fuel counterparts combined.
Solar energy isn’t the only alternative source currently being explored and developed. Other efforts include harnessing wind energy, which just covered more than 50 percent of one U.S. power grid’s energy demands. Efforts are being undertaken to improve nuclear energy production, specifically research in sustainable fusion, as well as developments in solar fuel technology. With all of these efforts combined, humanity has a chance to stop or even reverse the damage done to the planet.