Which Continent Led The World In Solar Panel Installation?

While the U.S. prepares to hand over $197 million in government funding to solar power start-up SoloPower, a new report from the European Union’s Joint Research Centre indicates that the vast majority of solar panels installed worldwide in 2011 were placed in Europe.

Two-thirds of solar panels — 18.5 gigawatts — were installed in Europe last year, a project that totaled roughly $84 billion and grew Europe’s solar photovoltaic industry by an average of more than 40 percent annually.

Though Europe was home to the most substantial installation of solar power in 2011, the report also indicated that the most rapid annual growth in the past five years has been concentrated in Asia. China remains the largest producer of solar panels.

Europe’s overall solar power capacity amounts to 52 gigawatts, however the volume of power produced by the photovoltaic industry could only meet 2 percent of the European Union’s electricity demands — meaning it could power a country the size of Austria. The European Commission’s current goals outline a plan to increase renewable energy to more than 20 percent by 2020.

The U.S. has noticeably fallen behind its European and Chinese competitors. While U.S. installations reached record levels in 2011, totaling 1,855 megawatts, the number is far behind Europe’s 18.5 gigawatts of solar energy installed last year. Yet estimates expect solar panel installation in the U.S. to almost double by the end of the year, as the Solar Energy Industries Association predicts installation will reach 2.8 gigawatts in 2012.

Following on the heels of the now bankrupt solar panel start-up Solyndra, SoloPower is expected to receive $197 million in government loans as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s $35 billion program to support renewable energy. The contributions from the federal government, in addition to the $56.5 million the start-up has already collected from the state of Oregon and the city of Portland, where its first factory is located, will help to grow the U.S. photovoltaic industry in the coming years.

While the fiasco surrounding the Solyndra bankruptcy proved to be a burden on Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign, the president has also taken heat for not following through on his 2010 promise to install solar panels on the White House roof. The administration previously stated the installation would take place in spring 2011, however, when the June 21 deadline came and went, the Department of Energy stated it was still in the “competitive procurement process.”