The long history of solar energy use dates as far back as 4,000 B.C.—when ancient civilizations would use solar architecture to design dwellings that would use more of the sun’s warmth in the winter, while reducing excess heat in the summer.
According to visualcapitalist.com, despite its long history, we’ve only recently started to rely on solar energy as a renewable power source. This Our World in Data visualization pulls data from BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy to highlight how solar energy consumption per capita has grown in countries around the world over 54 years.
Solar Success: The Top Consumers Per Capita
Solar energy consumption is measured in kilowatt hours (kWh)—and as of the latest estimates, Australia leads the world in terms of highest solar energy consumption per capita at 1,764 kWh in 2019. A combination of factors help achieve this:
• Optimal weather conditions
• High gross domestic product (GDP) per capita
• Tariffs incentivizing the shift to solar
In fact, government subsidies such as financial assistance with installation and feed-in tariffs help bring down the costs of residential solar systems to a mere AUD$1 (US$0.70) per watt.
Coming in second place, Japan has the highest share of solar (3.59%) compared to its total primary energy consumption per capita. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, the nation made plans to double its renewable energy use by 2030.
Solar Laggards: The Bottom Consumers Per Capita
On the flip side, several countries that lag behind on solar use are heavily reliant on fossil fuels. These include several members of OPEC—Iraq, Iran, and Venezuela—and former member state Indonesia.
This reliance may also explain why, despite being located in regions that receive the most annual “sunshine hours” in the world, this significant solar potential is yet unrealized.
Interestingly, Iceland is on this list for a different reason. Although the country still relies on renewable energy, it gets this from different sources than solar—a significant share comes from hydropower as well as geothermal power.
The Future of Solar
One thing the visualization above makes clear is that solar’s impact on the global energy mix has only just begun. As the costs associated with producing solar power continue to fall, we’re on a steady track to transform solar energy into a more significant means of generating power.
All in all, with the world’s projected energy mix from total renewables set to increase over 300% by 2040, solar energy is on a rising trend upwards.