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Which are the top Solar & Wind Power countries, per capita & per GDP?

by Zachary Shahan

Part 1: Solar Power rankings by country

I will first address rankings for the top solar power countries per capita and per GDP. These solar power by country rankings are key to seeing who the solar power leaders are in relative terms. It’s great that giant countries like the US and China are investing in solar, but how do their investments really compare when we compare to country populations and GDP? That’s the important question if we want to identify who is really leading the world with aggressive solar or wind power policies and incentives.

For the solar power rankings (such as the per capita chart above) below, solar power capacity data come from EPIA’s 2012 Photovoltaic Barometer report. Population numbers come from Internet World Stats and GDP numbers come from the International Monetary Fund. The key findings for Solar are as follows.

1. Germany is still the clear solar power leader per capita (total solar power capacity).

2. Italy, Belgium, and the Czech Republic are still clearly #2, #3, and #4 in that category.

3. Solar power country leaders per capita are almost entirely European countries. The only others in the top 20 are Australia (#8), Japan (#14), Israel (#17), US (#20).

4. Per GDP, however, Germany falls to #3, as Bulgaria and the Czech Republic take #1 and #2, respectively. Australia and the US, of course, fall further down the list.

5. Bulgaria was the solar superstar of 2012. Crushing all other countries in new solar power capacity per GDP and per capita, Bulgaria was a notable solar leader that you really don’t hear much about.

6. Germany, Greece, and Denmark also had very strong showings in new solar power capacity per capita, and additional European countries such as Slovenia, Belgium, Italy, Austria, and perhaps Switzerland had strong results in this arena (relative to other countries). The US came in at #14 in this category.

7. Per GDP, aside from Bulgaria running away with the title, Greece, Slovenia, Germany, and Italy had relatively good results. Belgium, Denmark, and Ukraine were in the next grouping with mediocre to good results. After that, the trail-off is pretty clear. The US came in at #23 in this category.

8. Clearly, the solar policies of numerous European countries have made them solar leaders in more ways than one. Some other countries have only mediocre policies and results.


Part 2: Wind Power rankings by country


Top Wind Power Countries Per Capita
The Global Wind Energy Council has provided final global wind power installation numbers for 2012 that allow us to look at relative rankings, or creating those that don’t yet exist. As with Solar Power, this tells us much more about who the true clean energy leaders are than looking at total installation numbers.

Rankings are according to population and GDP, since country-level electricity production data comes from too many sources and is not standardized. The really interesting rankings are again per capita and per GDP (for new wind power capacity and for total wind power capacity). The per capita wind power rankings use population data from Internet World Stats (IWS) and wind power capacity data from GWEC.

Total Installed Wind Power Capacity Per Capita
I believe the total (cumulative) wind power capacity numbers are more important than the newly installed numbers, since some wind power leaders may have had a slow year or may simply be taking wind power growth more slowly after reaching a certain “high” level of saturation. Therefore the figure above presents the total wind power installation comparisons. 

Clearly, Denmark is still in a league of its own for wind power. Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Germany, and Ireland are other world leaders that have been going strong in the realm of wind power for awhile now (note that they are all in Europe). The US, Canada, Austria, and Greece round out the top 10. Each of these countries has had strong wind power policies for years.

Meanwhile, China — which many identify as a world leader in wind power due to its high total installation figure — is #19 per capita, and the leading economies of Japan and Brazil are #24 and #28, respectively.

Newly Installed Wind Power Capacity Per Capita
Who are the movers and shakers in new wind power installations per capita? I wouldn’t have guessed #1 or #5, and I’m not sure if I would have gotten the others in the top 10 in the right order… if I even got them all in the top 10.

Sweden and Romania were the big leaders in 2012. Sweden, with its relatively small population of about 9 million and its quest to become an oil-free nation, clearly had a strong year with 846 megawatts of new wind power. It seems the country’s wind power focus may stay strong for awhile. It actually has a 72 MW wind farm under construction that will sell all of its electricity to Google. Sweden’s 846 MW of new wind power accounted for 22.5% of the country’s total installed wind power capacity at the end of 2012 (3745 MW).

Romania has also become a hot market for wind power. Vestas set up its Eastern European hub there in 2011. Its relatively small population of just under 22 million combined with its rich wind resources also didn’t hurt with this ranking. Romania’s 923 MW of new wind power accounted for 48.5% of its total installed wind power at the end of 2012 (1905 MW).

The US, with it’s massive 13,124 megawatts of new wind power (the #2 source of new power capacity in the country in 2012) rounds out the top 3. A lot of that US capacity was rushed through before the end of the year because of the threat to the country’s wind power production tax credit (PTC), so we can't expect to see such high numbers in 2013. (The PTC was extended for just one year again, but the projects only have to be started this year — they can be completed in future years.)

Denmark, which has been a consistent wind power leader for years, is #4. It has already hit over 30% national electricity supply from wind power, and aims to get 50% of its electricity from wind power by 2020. There’s no denying that Denmark’s perennial love affair with wind power is still going strong. That makes it the world’s #1 wind power leader.

◊ Zachary Shahan is the tireless director of Cleantechnica.

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