Solar power remains, after hydro and wind, the third most important renewable energy source in terms of globally installed capacity. In 2012, more than 100 GW of solar photovoltaic (PV) power was installed in the world — an amount capable of producing at least 110 TWh of electricity every year. 
What countries have the highest installed capacity of solar PV power?
The table below is based on data from EPIA`s annual Global Market Outlook (2013).
|Ranking||Country||Installed PV [MW]|
Where are the solar energy resources located?
Solar energy exists in abundance all over the globe, but not every place would be suitable for solar PV panels, solar thermal collectors or other means of converting sunlight into useful energy.
“Where in the world is the potential of solar energy the greatest?” would be a better question. A world insolation map is the best answer:
Solar incentives play a huge part in market development
Many of the countries in the world that have the highest capacities of installed solar power do not necessarily have high levels of insolation. Incentives (government and state subsidies) play a major role in making solar power affordable.
Germany is number one in the world
Germany has by far the highest capacity of solar photovoltaic power (PV) in the world at 32,4 GW (31%) at the end of 2012. Newly connected PV systems worth 7.6 GW were added this year. Germany’s solar panels generated about 23 TWh (terawatt hours) of electricity in 2012, which is impressive, but still only covers 3% of the country’s total electricity consumption. Market analysts believe this number will increase to 25% before 2050. Germany aims for a total capacity of 66 GW by 2030 with an annual growth of 2.5-3.5 GW.
Germany is not a country with incredible amounts of solar energy – what they do have is an excellent subsidizing framework, which ensures that solar power can compete on the market. With a well-developed feed-in tariff scheme, small and large-scale solar PV systems can send excess electricity production to the utility grid for profit.
The rest of Europe is catching up
Other countries in Europe have also started to implement similar incentives, and show impressive numbers in terms of new growth:
Italy added more than 3.4 GW of solar PV capacity in 2012. France, UK, Greece and Bulgaria were not far behind.
Spain has become the world leader in solar thermal power (CSP) with a capacity of 1 GW in 2012. This represents 65 percent of the total installed CSP capacity in the world.
Solar leasing spurs growth in the U.S.
The U.S. places number four on the list with a total solar PV capacity of 7,8 GW, right behind China at 8,3 GW. The California Solar Initiative is at the forefront of the development. California, as of June 2013, has close to 1,6 GW of solar power.
New Jersey, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico are not far behind.
We are seeing a lot of growth in the residential sector thanks to smart financial programs. Solar leasing and power purchase agreements (third-party ownership) allows homeowners to go solar without upfront costs
Update June 2013: The U.S. now has over 8,500 MW in solar PV capacity, enough to power more than 1.3 million average American homes.