TOP 4: ASIAN SOLAR ENERGY

How successful have Asian countries been in harnessing solar energy?

The cost of photovoltaic solar panels has been dropping rapidly in recent years, and efficiency has been constantly improving.

As this trend continues, solar energy is catching on in a big way on the world's biggest continent.

Although Asia is a little behind Europe in embracing the solar energy, Asia—or at least the southern three quarters of it—receives far more sunlight than Europe.

If solar panels are now developed enough to be cost-effective in northern Europe, the production of solar energy can easily become a lucrative business in Asia.

And, there are enough enterprising, entrepreneurial individuals living in Asia that no business opportunity will go unnoticed—let alone one as profitable as making money out of a free resource such as the sunlight.

Asia, as the manufacturing hub of the world and its most populous continent, is also the world's leading energy consumer. Asia's shift toward solar energy can lead to many welcome developments for the environment, economy, and quality of life across the planet.

Asian forerunning nations are employing different technologies and strategies to harness the energy of sun, and their efforts have been met with varying degrees of success.
Please carry on reading to find out more.


China

The Bund or Waitan waterfront in Shanghai, with solar panel plant. Credit: Shutterstock / crystal51


With photovoltaic and solar-thermal plants popping up across China almost ever other day, the country is the world's largest market for solar technologies.

China was the first country in the world to achieve the solar power production capacity of 100 GW—an impressive record which was registered in 2017.

In 2020 China launched the world's largest solar plant in the province of Qinghai, whose capacity exceeds 2.2GW. To put things in perspective, the world's largest operational plant back in 2018, which was also located in China, was not even a tenth of the Qinghai plant in terms of capacity.

Such a breakthrough in the space of two years means only one thing: solar energy is experiencing an exponential growth in China. There is simply no telling how much the country's combined solar capacity will be by 2022.

All that said, solar energy makes up a small part of china's energy portfolio (under 2%), and hydrocarbon energy sources—including sources as non-eco friendly as coal—are still driving the country's economy forward.

As a great deal of China's potential for solar energy remains untapped, there is still much room for progress.


Japan

A woman carrying a purple parasol walks by a flooded rice field in front of a traditional Japanese farm house. Credit: Shutterstock / WorldStock


Japan has been one of the forerunners of solar energy not only in Asia but in the world for many years.

The country contributed greatly to the design and development of photovoltaic panels back in the 1990s. It is thanks to the efforts of Japanese researchers in those years that solar panels have currently become cost effective.

Japan is home to several leading manufacturers of photovoltaic panels and other solar technologies such as Solar Frontier, Mitsubishi Electric, Toshiba, and Sharp Solar.

By 2017—when China had passed the 100GW mark—Japan's cumulative capacity was no smaller than 50GW, which gives Japan a greater per capita production of solar energy than its giant western neighbor.

Renewable solar energy meets well over 7% of the demand imposed by the national grid, whereas the figure is 1.8% in China.

Japan has largely outreached its set targets for solar energy. In 2009, the Japanese government had set the solar photovoltaic target of 53GW for the year 2030, which was achieved as early as 2018.

But, there is no cap for the expansion of renewable energies, especially as the installation of current photovoltaic technologies makes perfect economic sense even without government subsidies.

Japan may well turn out to be the first Asian nation to produce the majority of its required electrical power from renewable sources, including solar energy.


South Korea

Solar panels on the roof of the building in South Korea. Credit: Shutterstock / Dech St


South Korea has been long compared to its regional rival, Japan, in many areas, but it has not been as successful as Japan in harnessing renewable energies.

In 2017, the combined installed solar power capacity in Korea amounted to some 7GW—roughly equal to 3% of the national consumption.

Korea's lack of interest in solar energy may be explained by the country's heavy reliance on nuclear energy, which singlehandedly meets almost a third of the nation's demand for electricity.

Unlike most other developed economies which have been suspicious of nuclear power since the late 1990s, Korea has remained pretty sanguine about the safety of its 23 reactors.

In the early 2010s, the country had plans to almost double the contribution of its nuclear plants to the grid—to 60%—by 2035.

However, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of 2010 in Japan forced the Korean decision makers to think twice and limit the expansion of nuclear plants across the country.

The nation's pessimism regarding the nuclear technology grew further when it became apparent that many safety reports about the nation's reactors had tried to portray the nuclear facilities safer than what they really were.

South Korea, as such, has been revising its energy portfolio in recent years, putting a greater emphasis on solar energy.

In 2019, an article published by the World Economic Forum suggested that one should “Look up as you walk the streets of South Korea's capital and you'll see a renewable-energy revolution taking place."

The comment was referring to a new program in Seoul to install solar panels over all public buildings as well as a million private properties by 2022, which is a sign of the shift which is happening in South Korea's energy strategy.


India

Unidentified man walks in Keoladeo Ghana National Park in Bharatpur, India. Credit: Shutterstock / Don Mammoser


Quite unsurprisingly given India's tropical climate, the country receives a great deal of sunlight. The average solar radiation across the country is over 18 mega joules per square meter per day (MJ/sqm/day).

The figure dwarves the solar radiation that Europe receives—roughly 12 MJ/sqm/day—and is significantly higher than the radiation received in most parts of Asia: 13-15 MJ/sqm/day.

Despite this, the combined nominal capacity of solar plants across India does not exceed 20GW, which is less than impressive.

The figure is roughly equal to the combined capacities of Ireland and the UK—countries much smaller than India which, all things considered, are not famous for their year-round sunshine.

However, things can change in India if regulatory obstacles are removed, energy subsidies are redirected to solar projects of national importance, and foreign investors are attracted to the country.

If all goes well, India has the potential to experience a fivefold growth in solar energy, raising its nominal solar electricity production capacity to 100 GW by as early as 2022.