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 UK, being on the smaller side, is not one of these countries, requiring 12.3% of its land to be covered in solar panels. This may seem like a lot (and look like a lot on the map) but considering just 6% of the UK is built on it 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 about 1.1 million square kilometers 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.

The full list of countries

CountrySolar panel area (square km)% of country
Afghanistan4700.1%
Albania1500.6%
Algeria3,0100.1%
Andorra20.3%
Angola4800.0%
Argentina7,3800.3%
Armenia2500.9%
Australia6,2700.1%
Austria2,5303.1%
Azerbaijan1,6802.0%
Bahrain1,200156.3%
Bangladesh2,8102.2%
Belarus3,6401.8%
Belgium6,24020.6%
Benin1400.1%
Bhutan300.1%
Bosnia and Herzegovina2800.6%
Botswana800.0%
Brunei Darussalam2805.3%
Bulgaria8400.8%
Burkina Faso600.0%
Burundi100.0%
Cambodia1400.1%
Cameroon2000.0%
Canada24,0100.3%
Cape Verde200.4%
Central African Republic100.0%
Chad100.0%
Chile2,0400.3%
China106,2001.1%
Comoros30.2%
Republic of the Congo2200.1%
Democratic Republic of the Congo1300.0%
Cote DIvoire3000.1%
Croatia7301.3%
Cyprus1501.6%
Czech Republic2,3603.1%
Denmark1,6003.8%
Djibouti200.1%
Egypt6,4000.6%
Eritrea100.0%
Estonia3300.8%
Ethiopia2000.0%
Fiji600.3%
Finland2,4500.8%
France13,1202.4%
Gabon1300.1%
Gambia100.1%
Georgia3500.5%
Germany86,46024.8%
Ghana3200.1%
Greece1,5901.2%
Guinea500.0%
Guinea-Bissau100.0%
Hong Kong2,230212.5%
Hungary2,2302.5%
Iceland3600.4%
India22,7300.8%
Indonesia8,7500.5%
Iran17,6201.1%
Iraq3,0600.7%
Ireland1,6002.3%
Israel1,5207.0%
Italy10,9503.7%
Japan29,1708.0%
Jordan7400.8%
Kazakhstan2,3400.1%
Kenya2700.0%
North Korea1400.1%
South Korea19,13019.6%
Kuwait3,10017.4%
Kyrgyzstan2300.1%
Laos300.0%
Latvia4600.7%
Lebanon5305.2%
Lesotho200.1%
Liberia200.0%
Libya1,1000.1%
Liechtenstein31.9%
Lithuania6201.0%
Luxembourg46017.9%
Macedonia1600.6%
Madagascar500.0%
Malawi300.0%
Malaysia5,3501.6%
Maldives3010.1%
Mali300.0%
Malta13040.8%
Mauritania500.0%
Mauritius803.9%
Mexico27,8901.4%
Moldova3601.1%
Mongolia1400.0%
Morocco1,0300.2%
Mozambique2500.0%
Myanmar6100.1%
Namibia800.0%
Netherlands9,72028.9%
New Caledonia600.3%
New Zealand1,5200.6%
Niger400.0%
Nigeria2,3200.3%
Norway4,2301.2%
Oman2,1500.7%
Pakistan4,3800.6%
Palestinian Territory500.9%
Philippines1,7600.6%
Poland6,5502.1%
Portugal1,4901.6%
Qatar3,07026.5%
Romania2,2101.0%
Russia60,9800.4%
Rwanda200.1%
Sao Tome and Principe30.3%
Saudi Arabia14,4100.7%
Senegal1500.1%
Sierra Leone200.0%
Singapore5,890830.2%
Slovakia1,2202.5%
Slovenia4102.0%
Somalia200.0%
South Africa3,3100.3%
Spain7,9401.6%
Sri Lanka4100.7%
Sudan3100.0%
Swaziland200.1%
Sweden3,1300.8%
Switzerland1,6604.2%
Syria7800.4%
Taiwan6,86018.9%
Tajikistan1600.1%
Tanzania2600.0%
Thailand10,8202.1%
Togo400.1%
Trinidad and Tobago2,37046.2%
Tunisia8100.5%
Turkey9,4201.2%
Turkmenistan4,5201.0%
Uganda900.0%
Ukraine5,3900.9%
UAE9,98011.9%
UK29,69012.3%
US129,3901.4%
Uzbekistan1,1000.3%
Vietnam2,8800.9%
Yemen4100.1%
Zimbabwe1200.0%

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.

Feeling inspired to help the world switch to solar? See what renewable energy provider you could switch to, or read our guide to investing in renewable energy.

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