Updated: Apr 6
There are now enough solar panels installed throughout the world to generate 1 terawatt (TW) of electricity from the sun, according to the latest estimates, marking a major milestone for renewable energy adoption.
This solar capacity is enough to meet the electricity demands of nearly every country in Europe combined, though distribution and storage limitations mean it is still only a small fraction of global energy supply.
Calculations based on BloombergNEF figures by photovoltaics publication PV Magazine estimated that the world’s solar capacity passed 1TW on Tuesday, meaning “we can officially start measuring solar capacity in terawatts”.
In a country like Spain, which has roughly 3,000 hours of sunshine each year, this would be the equivalent to 3,000TW-hours.
This is just under the combined electricity consumption of all major countries in Europe (including Norway, Switzerland, UK and Ukraine) – roughly 3,050TWh.
The European Union currently delivers around 3.6 per cent of its electricity needs from solar power, while the UK is slightly higher at 4.1 per cent.
BloombergNEF estimates that solar power will account for roughly 20 per cent of the European energy mix by 2040, based on current market trends.
Separate estimates from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2021 calculated that 3.1 per cent of electricity generated in 2020 came from solar – a figure that is expected to be closer to 4 per cent for 2021 given that solar installations increased by 23 per cent last year.
Driving the growth of solar energy harvesting are China, Europe and the US, with the three regions accounting for more than half of installed solar capacity globally.
Record growth was seen in 2021 for residential installations, typically through rooftop solar panels, while commercial and industrial systems also saw significant increases as solar electricity generation becomes more energy efficient and cost effective.