Solar Around the World: Schemes and Regulations in Each County
Solar power is already established as a cornerstone of global energy production. In 2021, solar power accounted for 3.6% of global electricity generation. A percentage that is set to increase rapidly as we inch closer to an ambitious target to hit net zero emissions by 2050.
In this article, we explore solar schemes and regulations in the top solar-producing countries as well as some countries with big solar ambitions in the coming years.
Top Solar-Producing Countries
When it comes to solar energy production, it should come as no surprise that there is a rough correlation between population, wealth, climate, and the top solar producers. According to World Population Review, the top solar producers in 2021 included:
- China - 306,973 megawatts
- United States - 95,209 megawatts
- Japan - 74,191 megawatts
- Germany - 58,461 megawatts
With an ever-growing population of 1.4 billion, China has serious energy needs. The country has embraced solar as part of its energy production mix. It has also rolled out several ambitious schemes and regulations to help encourage solar uptake.
One example of this is the Top Runner Programme. This is a government scheme that is designed to improve the efficiency of solar panels in the country. It works by setting standards for panel efficiency. It then mandates that a certain percentage of solar farm capacity built each year meets those standards. This ensures that new installations aren’t using old, inefficient technologies.
Other schemes also demonstrate China’s commitment to advanced solar technologies. This includes the introduction of the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) in 2019 which requires wholesale market companies to source a specific portion of their electricity from renewable sources. As well as plans to mandate Building-Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) to increase solar capacity.
However, like many other countries (including the UK), China has phased out generous Feed in Tariffs (FiTs) which were used to incentivise solar energy production throughout the country.
The United States is the second largest producer of solar energy globally. The country has developed its own schemes and regulations to help grow solar capacity.
One important scheme is the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC). This scheme offers a 30 percent tax credit for any individual that installs a solar system on a residential property. Under a different section, it can also be applied to customer-sited commercial solar systems and large-scale solar farms.
Net Energy Metering (NEM) is similar to the UK’s Smart Export Guarantee (SEG). This scheme guarantees individuals who generate renewable energy (such as via solar panels on a rooftop) that they will be paid for any unused energy which is sold back to the grid.
Similar to China, the USA has also adopted a Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) approach, which mandates that a specific percentage of electricity utilities sold should come from renewable sources. The current goal percentage of the USA's RPS differs from state to state.
Unlike many other global leaders in solar, Japan continues to operate a Feed in Tariff (FiT) across the country for those producing electricity from solar power. Although, as panels and equipment are much cheaper these days, systems will pay for themselves much more quickly. This scheme is different from the USA’s NEM and UK’s SEG as it pays participants for all energy produced, even if they use that electricity themselves.
Japan has also introduced a Non-Fossil Certificates scheme which targets non-trackable renewable energy that does not fall under the FiT umbrella.
Although Japan has not implemented a country-wide RPS like China and the USA, many local Japanese governments have introduced this approach to renewable energy usage mandates.
Germany is Europe's leader when it comes to solar energy production, with its own set of schemes and regulations.
The Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) outlines Germany’s commitment to account for at least 80% of energy from renewable sources by 2030. It outlines the country's ambitious targets for development and how they plan to reach those targets.
Unlike the UK’s Contracts for Difference (CfD) model, Germany offers energy companies a set price for power produced via renewable energy sources but does not expect the company to pay back the difference periodically if the market value is lower than the price paid.
The UK’s FiT scheme closed to new applicants on March 31, 2019 and was replaced by the SEG. Where the former scheme paid participants for all energy produced by solar panels, the new scheme only pays participants for the energy they send to the grid. Alongside this, ECO4 is a UK-based scheme that allows lower-income, energy-poor households to apply for grants to cover the cost of energy saving improvements, including solar panels.
Although building regulations in the UK do not mandate the inclusion of solar panels on new builds, they do mandate their consideration alongside stringent targets for meeting energy-saving measures.
Contracts for Difference (CfD) is the UK government's support scheme for enabling low-carbon electricity generation. This scheme provides businesses that invest in renewable energy power generation a degree of protection from volatile energy prices by offering them a fixed price. The difference between the fixed price and the prevailing market price is then settled periodically. This can see the energy production company either paying or being paid the difference to or from the government.
Solar Schemes & Regulations: Summary
It is clear that solar is already an essential part of the power production mix. We can also see that many global leaders in solar power are introducing schemes and regulations which are encouraging the growth of solar. This indicates a global trend amongst superpowers and one which is being followed by much of the rest of the world.
Many of the initiatives that can be found amongst global solar leaders differ in their detail but are similar in intent. For example, all the countries we mention in this article have established policies to encourage domestic solar installations, to make commercial investment more profitable/lower risk, and to encourage the adoption of newer, more efficient technologies.
One noteworthy example is China’s clear commitment to establishing solar innovation and modernization within the country. These incentives could be learned from and applied more widely across the globe.
About Robert Cathcart
Robert Cathcart is Yorkshire-based renewable energy researcher, copywriter and blogger. With over 20 years experience in copywriting he has turned his attention to ecological issues and the green revolution. Specialising in Solar Power, Robert aims to inform, educate and inspire.
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