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. Australia falls into this category, requiring just 0.1% of its land to be covered in solar panels. That's 6,270km2 of Australia's land.

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.

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The full list of countries

Country Solar panel area (square km) % of country
Afghanistan 470 0.1%
Albania 150 0.6%
Algeria 3,010 0.1%
Andorra 2 0.3%
Angola 480 0.0%
Argentina 7,380 0.3%
Armenia 250 0.9%
Australia 6,270 0.1%
Austria 2,530 3.1%
Azerbaijan 1,680 2.0%
Bahrain 1,200 156.3%
Bangladesh 2,810 2.2%
Belarus 3,640 1.8%
Belgium 6,240 20.6%
Benin 140 0.1%
Bhutan 30 0.1%
Bosnia and Herzegovina 280 0.6%
Botswana 80 0.0%
Brunei Darussalam 280 5.3%
Bulgaria 840 0.8%
Burkina Faso 60 0.0%
Burundi 10 0.0%
Cambodia 140 0.1%
Cameroon 200 0.0%
Canada 24,010 0.3%
Cape Verde 20 0.4%
Central African Republic 10 0.0%
Chad 10 0.0%
Chile 2,040 0.3%
China 106,200 1.1%
Comoros 3 0.2%
Republic of the Congo 220 0.1%
Democratic Republic of the Congo 130 0.0%
Cote DIvoire 300 0.1%
Croatia 730 1.3%
Cyprus 150 1.6%
Czech Republic 2,360 3.1%
Denmark 1,600 3.8%
Djibouti 20 0.1%
Egypt 6,400 0.6%
Eritrea 10 0.0%
Estonia 330 0.8%
Ethiopia 200 0.0%
Fiji 60 0.3%
Finland 2,450 0.8%
France 13,120 2.4%
Gabon 130 0.1%
Gambia 10 0.1%
Georgia 350 0.5%
Germany 86,460 24.8%
Ghana 320 0.1%
Greece 1,590 1.2%
Guinea 50 0.0%
Guinea-Bissau 10 0.0%
Hong Kong 2,230 212.5%
Hungary 2,230 2.5%
Iceland 360 0.4%
India 22,730 0.8%
Indonesia 8,750 0.5%
Iran 17,620 1.1%
Iraq 3,060 0.7%
Ireland 1,600 2.3%
Israel 1,520 7.0%
Italy 10,950 3.7%
Japan 29,170 8.0%
Jordan 740 0.8%
Kazakhstan 2,340 0.1%
Kenya 270 0.0%
North Korea 140 0.1%
South Korea 19,130 19.6%
Kuwait 3,100 17.4%
Kyrgyzstan 230 0.1%
Laos 30 0.0%
Latvia 460 0.7%
Lebanon 530 5.2%
Lesotho 20 0.1%
Liberia 20 0.0%
Libya 1,100 0.1%
Liechtenstein 3 1.9%
Lithuania 620 1.0%
Luxembourg 460 17.9%
Macedonia 160 0.6%
Madagascar 50 0.0%
Malawi 30 0.0%
Malaysia 5,350 1.6%
Maldives 30 10.1%
Mali 30 0.0%
Malta 130 40.8%
Mauritania 50 0.0%
Mauritius 80 3.9%
Mexico 27,890 1.4%
Moldova 360 1.1%
Mongolia 140 0.0%
Morocco 1,030 0.2%
Mozambique 250 0.0%
Myanmar 610 0.1%
Namibia 80 0.0%
Netherlands 9,720 28.9%
New Caledonia 60 0.3%
New Zealand 1,520 0.6%
Niger 40 0.0%
Nigeria 2,320 0.3%
Norway 4,230 1.2%
Oman 2,150 0.7%
Pakistan 4,380 0.6%
Palestinian Territory 50 0.9%
Philippines 1,760 0.6%
Poland 6,550 2.1%
Portugal 1,490 1.6%
Qatar 3,070 26.5%
Romania 2,210 1.0%
Russia 60,980 0.4%
Rwanda 20 0.1%
Sao Tome and Principe 3 0.3%
Saudi Arabia 14,410 0.7%
Senegal 150 0.1%
Sierra Leone 20 0.0%
Singapore 5,890 830.2%
Slovakia 1,220 2.5%
Slovenia 410 2.0%
Somalia 20 0.0%
South Africa 3,310 0.3%
Spain 7,940 1.6%
Sri Lanka 410 0.7%
Sudan 310 0.0%
Swaziland 20 0.1%
Sweden 3,130 0.8%
Switzerland 1,660 4.2%
Syria 780 0.4%
Taiwan 6,860 18.9%
Tajikistan 160 0.1%
Tanzania 260 0.0%
Thailand 10,820 2.1%
Togo 40 0.1%
Trinidad and Tobago 2,370 46.2%
Tunisia 810 0.5%
Turkey 9,420 1.2%
Turkmenistan 4,520 1.0%
Uganda 90 0.0%
Ukraine 5,390 0.9%
UAE 9,980 11.9%
UK 29,690 12.3%
US 129,390 1.4%
Uzbekistan 1,100 0.3%
Vietnam 2,880 0.9%
Yemen 410 0.1%
Zimbabwe 120 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.

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