Solar photovoltaics generated 3.7% of the world’s electricity in 2021, up from just 1.1% in 2015.
Share of solar in global electricity (%)
The fastest rising source of electricity generation
Solar power is the cheapest electricity in history, according to the IEA, and is significantly cheaper than generating electricity from fossil fuels in most countries.
Several countries now generate more than 10% of their electricity from solar, including Chile (13%) and Australia (12%).
Ember’s Global Electricity Review revealed that to meet climate targets, solar generation needs to rise four times as fast on average this decade as it did in 2021, but the technology is on a rapid growth trend. It has been the fastest rising source of electricity generation for the 17th year running.
Last updated: Nov 2022
The world's biggest solar generators
Cheap solar will be - alongside wind - the backbone of the future electricity system
The speed at which solar has become cheaper is demonstrated in the latest global IPCC scenarios (April 2022), which show triple the solar in 2030 as the previous IPCC release in 2019. The scenario average envisions solar rising to 23% of global electricity production by 2030.
This will require extraordinary growth rates, but the technology is modular, easily mass-produced, and improving in efficiency every day. China doubled its solar PV manufacturing capacity in 2021. Where local production doesn’t exist, solar panels must be imported, and tariffs often complicate imports and the rapid scale-up of solar power.
Solar power only generates electricity during the day, so works best when paired with energy storage. The declining cost of lithium-ion batteries has seen increasingly large projects appear in areas with abundant spare land like Australia (12% of generation from solar in 2021). However solar is also growing fast in more crowded countries like the Netherlands, where rooftop installation is key (9% of generation from solar in 2021). It also works best when electricity demand is shifted towards sunny hours, for example for electricity-thirsty air conditioners.
Only 1% of global solar generation rise since 2015 was in African countries and 2% in Middle Eastern countries, despite their enormous potential. Counter-intuitively, Ember has shown that where solar succeeds is not just down to sunshine, but to government policy.