You might say that solar energy is enjoying a bit of a boom. As photovoltaic technology has reached maturity, countries around the world have invested heavily in bringing more solar power online every year. Even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, 2020 was another banner year for global capacity additions. To understand what's fueling this growth, it's worth exploring which countries use the most solar power.
As humanity has navigated the rapid changes brought on by the Digital Age, our appetite for energy has grown ever more ravenous. We've burned through an extraordinary quantity of fossil fuels, utilized the blowing of the winds and even tapped into the power of the atom. Still, we're always hungry for more.
Fortunately, we happen to live in close proximity to a nuclear fusion reactor that produces energy on a galactic scale. We've been harnessing the sun's energy since the late 1800s, but it's only in the last few decades that technological advances have unlocked the full potential of solar power. Today, shifting economics and mounting environmental concerns have made solar a fundamental piece of the global energy puzzle.
The use of solar photovoltaic energy has exploded around the world, but the growth has been anything but uniform. While some countries remain unable or unwilling to embrace solar on a large scale, many others have made tremendous gains. In particular, five countries clearly stand out above the crowd.
Although it has by far the largest carbon footprint of any country in the world, China also dwarfs the competition in terms of solar capacity. Such is the reality of being the world's most populous nation. In fact, China finished 2020 by announcing solar capacity numbers that were simply shocking. Over the course of the year, the country claimed to have added 48 gigawatts of new solar power. The resulting total installed capacity of 240 gigawatts is more than twice that of any other nation, proving once again that China is the undisputed champion of solar energy.
The United States added a record 19.2 gigawatts of solar capacity in 2020, bringing the installed total up to 97.2 gigawatts. The surge in installations marked a year-over-year increase of nearly 50%, signaling potentially greater growth ahead. The extension of the federal investment tax credit (ITC) through 2025 has also helped to fuel rising demand among Americans.
Solar energy is a complicated issue in Japan, but the island nation still managed to significantly increase its solar energy production in 2020. Japan finished the year with a total capacity of 71.7 gigawatts, up 8.2 gigawatts from the year before. However, it remains one of the most expensive countries in the world for photovoltaic energy. In particular, issues with grid congestion and limited land availability have made adding new utility-scale installations more difficult and costly.
As one of the most aggressive adopters of renewable energy sources, it's no surprise to see that Germany currently ranks fourth in the world with a total installed capacity of about 53.8 gigawatts. That's a yearly increase of nearly five gigawatts, fueled by the installation of over 184,000 new solar power systems. Hoping for even more investment in 2021, Germany is setting highly ambitious goals and reforming its landmark Renewable Energy Act with an eye toward promoting solar development and cutting red tape.
When it comes to solar energy, the last year has brought both good and bad news for India. The bad news is that new installations dropped sharply in 2020, leaving the country with a total solar capacity of just over 39 gigawatts. The good news is that the drop was likely only a temporary blip. India boasts tremendous solar generation potential and appears committed to fostering new installations as it works toward meeting its clean energy goals.
Although it hasn't always been smooth, it's clear that solar power is continuing its rise to become one of the premier energy sources of the future. The world's largest countries, including China and India, are grappling with the twin challenges of transitioning away from coal and growing their capacity to meet skyrocketing power demands in the coming years and decades. With abundant generation potential and steadily falling prices, solar promises to help light the way forward.
In the meantime, countries around the world are embracing photovoltaics like never before. They may not appear on this list, but nations of all sizes are making striking progress in the push for a cleaner, more sustainable future.