Solar panel statistics energy gained and carbon avoided by solar panels

Solar thermal panel statistics are quite hard to find and when you find them you have to treat them even more carefully than you treat other statistics. The International Energy Agency commissioned the Institute for Sustainable Technologies in Austria to provide the figures for solar thermal installations and output in the world.

What is the big picture? What kind of role does solar in the world play in meeting the world’s energy requirements?  The big picture is that there are around 180 million square metres of solar collectors in the world of all types.

These range from simple rubber tubing to heat pools, through thermo siphon systems in very hot countries as a cheap way of securing hot water all the way through to large sophisticated systems that provide heat energy for large enterprises. Capacity is in excess of 126,000 MWth of heat each year spread over 34 million solar systems.  The energy produced is equivalent to 12.4 billion litres of oil each year which is about 75 million barrels of oil equivalent. This is just a bit more oil than the world uses in one day. Around 30% of the world’s energy comes from oil, so as a fraction of world energy use, solar thermal panels provide just a world solar capacity in Mwth, merely a few hours of one day in every year.

What contributions do solar panels make to carbon dioxide emission reduction? These solar systems save around 35 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. It is clear that the opportunities for using solar panels as a a form of renewable heat have barely scratched the surface of their potential.

It is interesting to look at figures provided for the United Kingdom, as at the end of 2006. Here they show that we have about 250,000 square metres of panels with a total capacity of 175.6 MWth in around 62,000 installations. These save the equivalent of nearly 12 million litres of oil and avoid 32,656 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Does that sound impressive? If we compare the UK to Germany we see that the UK is far behind Germany. Germany has 8,804,000 square metres of solar panels installed over 1,171,043 systems saving over 457 million litres of oil and 1.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

China does even better, as you might expect given the size of its population. There are 93 million square metres of panels, over 22.6 million installations saving 6,369,175,000 litres of oil and 17.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

As you would expect hot places like Australia, Israel, Greece Turkey and Cyprus all have many solar water heating systems. Some countries like Spain, Portugal, France and Italy have relatively few, but they are expanding their use of solar, growing at tremendous rates and all of them have more panels and are growing their use at higher rates than the United Kingdom.

 Some small countries are also growing solar very rapidly. Switzerland has nearly 50% more solar panels than the United Kingdom.  Slovenia has 50% of the United Kingdom’s panels installed.

Solar, form the figures is not just for traditionally hot climates; tiny Denmark has more solar panels than the United Kingdom, as does Holland. Virtually every north European country has more solar panels per capita than the United Kingdom. New Zealand has about half the amount of the UK.

There are I suppose perhaps only two possible conclusions to draw from these solar panel statistics. One conclusion is that the United Kingdom knows much more about solar panels than the rest of the world and that is why it does not encourage or incentivise them. The other conclusion I shall leave for you to draw for yourself.