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Sustainable Energy

Solar Is a Booming Business, but It’s Still Not Generating Much of Our Power

Solar capacity is on the rise, but it still accounts for only about 1 percent of the world’s electricity.

The solar industry is growing fast. Led by China, the United States, and Japan, the world will install nearly 65 gigawatts of new solar generating capacity this year—up from 54 gigawatts in 2015 and four times the amount installed in 2010.

Solar now represents somewhere between 3 and 4 percent of the world’s total generating capacity. But capacity, which is the maximum amount of electricity that a power plant can supply and varies according to the amount of sunlight available, is a lot different from the amount of electricity a plant actually generates. In 2014, only about 0.8 percent of the world’s electricity came from the sun. Last year, solar power may have finally covered more than 1 percent of global energy demand.

In 2014, 19 countries, most in Europe, produced at least 1 percent of their electricity using photovoltaic panels. Germany gets more than 7 percent of its electricity from solar. Japan gets 2.5 percent from solar. Meanwhile, China and the U.S.—the two biggest builders of solar capacity in 2016—have yet to officially cross the 1 percent line.

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