How to power every country with just solar panels | interactive map

How to power every country with just solar panels

Is it possible to power the entire world with just solar energy? We estimated the area of solar panels each country would need to fulfil its energy needs.

Is it possible to power the entire world with just solar energy? We estimated the area of solar panels each of 147 countries would need to fulfil its energy needs (see full methodology below). There are two factors at play here: the amount of sun that country gets, and the amount of energy it uses.

It turns out that for most countries, the required area is a (probably) doable amount. 87% of the countries could power themselves using less than 5% of their land. The US falls into this category, requiring just 1.4% of its country to be covered in solar panels. According to the Economic Research Centre, only 3% of the US is built upon – this may well be possible.

Only three places included in the analysis need more solar panels than they have land: Singapore (830%), Hong Kong (213%) and Bahrain (156%). This makes sense as they are very small and dense states.

In total, we’d need over 400,000 square miles of solar panels to power the whole Earth, less than the area of South Africa. While, of course, we can’t replace South Africa with solar panels, spreading this area out across the world does seem like something we could achieve in the future.

Feeling inspired to help the world switch to solar? Find out what options there are to finance your solar panels and what you might expect to pay in our guide.

The full list of countries

Country Solar panel area (square miles) % of country
Afghanistan 181 0.1%
Albania 58 0.6%
Algeria 1,162 0.1%
Andorra 1 0.3%
Angola 185 0.0%
Argentina 2,849 0.3%
Armenia 97 0.9%
Australia 2,421 0.1%
Austria 977 3.1%
Azerbaijan 649 2.0%
Bahrain 463 156.3%
Bangladesh 1,085 2.2%
Belarus 1,405 1.8%
Belgium 2,409 20.6%
Benin 54 0.1%
Bhutan 12 0.1%
Bosnia and Herzegovina 108 0.6%
Botswana 31 0.0%
Brunei Darussalam 108 5.3%
Bulgaria 324 0.8%
Burkina Faso 23 0.0%
Burundi 4 0.0%
Cambodia 54 0.1%
Cameroon 77 0.0%
Canada 9,270 0.3%
Cape Verde 8 0.4%
Central African Republic 4 0.0%
Chad 4 0.0%
Chile 788 0.3%
China 41,004 1.1%
Comoros 1 0.2%
Republic of the Congo 85 0.1%
Democratic Republic of the Congo 50 0.0%
Cote DIvoire 116 0.1%
Croatia 282 1.3%
Cyprus 58 1.6%
Czech Republic 911 3.1%
Denmark 618 3.8%
Djibouti 8 0.1%
Egypt 2,471 0.6%
Eritrea 4 0.0%
Estonia 127 0.8%
Ethiopia 77 0.0%
Fiji 23 0.3%
Finland 946 0.8%
France 5,066 2.4%
Gabon 50 0.1%
Gambia 4 0.1%
Georgia 135 0.5%
Germany 33,382 24.8%
Ghana 124 0.1%
Greece 614 1.2%
Guinea 19 0.0%
Guinea-Bissau 4 0.0%
Hong Kong 861 212.5%
Hungary 861 2.5%
Iceland 139 0.4%
India 8,776 0.8%
Indonesia 3,378 0.5%
Iran 6,803 1.1%
Iraq 1,181 0.7%
Ireland 618 2.3%
Israel 587 7.0%
Italy 4,228 3.7%
Japan 11,263 8.0%
Jordan 286 0.8%
Kazakhstan 903 0.1%
Kenya 104 0.0%
North Korea 54 0.1%
South Korea 7,386 19.6%
Kuwait 1,197 17.4%
Kyrgyzstan 89 0.1%
Laos 12 0.0%
Latvia 178 0.7%
Lebanon 205 5.2%
Lesotho 8 0.1%
Liberia 8 0.0%
Libya 425 0.1%
Liechtenstein 1 1.9%
Lithuania 239 1.0%
Luxembourg 178 17.9%
Macedonia 62 0.6%
Madagascar 19 0.0%
Malawi 12 0.0%
Malaysia 2,066 1.6%
Maldives 12 10.1%
Mali 12 0.0%
Malta 50 40.8%
Mauritania 19 0.0%
Mauritius 31 3.9%
Mexico 10,768 1.4%
Moldova 139 1.1%
Mongolia 54 0.0%
Morocco 398 0.2%
Mozambique 97 0.0%
Myanmar 236 0.1%
Namibia 31 0.0%
Netherlands 3,753 28.9%
New Caledonia 23 0.3%
New Zealand 587 0.6%
Niger 15 0.0%
Nigeria 896 0.3%
Norway 1,633 1.2%
Oman 830 0.7%
Pakistan 1,691 0.6%
Palestinian Territory 19 0.9%
Philippines 680 0.6%
Poland 2,529 2.1%
Portugal 575 1.6%
Qatar 1,185 26.5%
Romania 853 1.0%
Russia 23,544 0.4%
Rwanda 8 0.1%
Sao Tome and Principe 1 0.3%
Saudi Arabia 5,564 0.7%
Senegal 58 0.1%
Sierra Leone 8 0.0%
Singapore 2,274 830.2%
Slovakia 471 2.5%
Slovenia 158 2.0%
Somalia 8 0.0%
South Africa 1,278 0.3%
Spain 3,066 1.6%
Sri Lanka 158 0.7%
Sudan 120 0.0%
Swaziland 8 0.1%
Sweden 1,208 0.8%
Switzerland 641 4.2%
Syria 301 0.4%
Taiwan 2,649 18.9%
Tajikistan 62 0.1%
Tanzania 100 0.0%
Thailand 4,178 2.1%
Togo 15 0.1%
Trinidad and Tobago 915 46.2%
Tunisia 313 0.5%
Turkey 3,637 1.2%
Turkmenistan 1,745 1.0%
Uganda 35 0.0%
Ukraine 2,081 0.9%
UAE 3,853 11.9%
UK 11,463 12.3%
US 49,958 1.4%
Uzbekistan 425 0.3%
Vietnam 1,112 0.9%
Yemen 158 0.1%
Zimbabwe 46 0.0%

Methodology

The area of solar panels required was calculated from equation


E = A * r * H * PR

from photovoltaic-software.com.

  • For energy (E), we summed the countries’ electricity, natural gas and refined petroleum products consumption according to the CIA World Factbook.
  • For solar panel efficiency (r) and performance ratio (PR) we used the values suggested by photovoltaic-software.com – 15% and 0.75 respectively.
  • For Annual average solar radiation (H), we averaged the total yearly values given for each country in OpenSolarDB.
  • Countries for which either the World Factbook or OpenSolarDB didn’t have data were left out of the analysis.

Since we didn’t have data for every country, the total area needed to power the world was estimated by finding the average area needed for a country, and multiplying it by the total number of countries (195).

Note that each country was enlarged to fit the box above the world map. While the squares on each map are to scale with the country itself, they aren’t to scale between countries, since all the countries vary a lot in size.