Written by guest author Tim Smith

Solar energy has only very recently seen a surge in mainstream use. However, even as trendy, functional, and eco-conscious as solar energy is, only about one percent of the energy produced globally is solar, which is just a drop in the proverbial bucket. By comparison, coal comprises more than 40 percent and natural gas more than 20 percent. Still, the solar industry is growing by leaps and bounds, becoming one of the best means of sustainable energy after wind and hydropower. Counting down to the country producing the most solar energy in the world, here are the top five countries who have opted to go solar for a clean, environmentally-friendly source of renewable energy.

5. United States — 12 Gigawatts

According to 2014 estimates, the United States is the fifth-highest country for the amount of solar energy that’s produced, which is actually up by 750 percent compared to estimates from four years ago. Part of this increase is due to the drop in cost of buying and installing solar photovoltaic systems as well as the now-widespread assistance, rebates, and government incentives like lifting the cap on solar tax incentives in 2009.

4. Japan — 13.6 Gigawatts

Falling from third place since 2010, Japan is currently the fourth-highest solar energy-producing country in the world. Japan’s solar capacity has grown by 500 percent in the past several years in part due to the Fukushimi Daiichi energy disaster. There have been many government and local initiatives to promote the growth of solar energy and the announcement of floating solar farms reflects Japan’s recent energy goals.

3. Italy — 17.6 Gigawatts

Rising from fifth place in 2010, Italy has become a leader in solar energy and currently is the third-highest country for the amount of solar energy produced. In fact, 7.8 percent of Italy’s total energy production is solar, which is currently the highest in the world.

2. China — 18.3 Gigawatts

Having a carbon footprint larger than that of any other nation, it’s no surprise that China jumped into solar energy with both feet, rising quickly from the eighth to now the second-highest producer of solar energy in the world in the past several years. Since 2010 when China produced less than one-third of a gigawatt of solar energy, China has grown its solar capacity, or the square footage of solar photovoltaic cells installed nationwide, by an impressive 6,000 percent with plans to reach 70 gigawatts of solar energy by just 2017.

1. Germany — 35.5 Gigawatts

Germany was at the top of the ranks in 2010 and remains the biggest producer of solar energy in the world today. Each year, Germany increases its solar capacity by between 3 and 6 gigawatts annually. Although the growth has slowed a bit lately, it’s projected that Germany with quicken its pace and continue to be a world leader in the production of solar energy. Currently, more than a quarter of the world’s photovoltaic capacity is in Germany compared to 13 percent in the second and third-ranking countries respectively.

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