About two-thirds of all the solar panels installed around the world in 2011 found homes in Europe, reports the European Union Joint Research Center.
Collectively, European countries installed 18.5 gigawatts (GW) of solar in 2011 - an investment of $84 billion - bringing the region's capacity to 52 GW. Germany accounts for 30 GW of that.
The data underscores just how damaging the EU's trade dispute could be for China, if it isn't settled amicably.
It also reinforces the positive role that supportive national renewable energy policies and commitments can play in inspiring renewables investment - although some of the feed-in tariffs (FiT) and incentives that helped European solar grow so much have changed or expired in more recent months, notably Germany's aggressive FiT.
For the past decade, the solar industry in Europe has grown an average of 40% annually, as European nations strive to reach their goal of using 20% renewable energy by 2020.
Right now, solar supports 2% of the region's total electricity demand. Historically, wind has been the predominant renewable energy source in Europe given the rich resources but solar investments outpaced those for wind in many regions last year including key European markets.
Germany Still Leads, But Italy is Still Gaining
Home to approximately one-third of the world's solar installations, Germany just hit a record 30 GW of solar as of this summer.
For perspective, that's roughly 24 times the capacity of all the solar in California. In fact, the 7.5 GW of solar Germany installed in 2011 exceeds all the solar installed in the US last year by 3 GW, according to a new report by Germany Trade and Invest.
Germany's FiT program has made solar a very attractive proposition for homeowners - it is cheaper to power homes from solar panels there than it is to buy power from the grid. But changes to that program could dampen growth in the future.
Those changes have the industry shifting focus to Italy, which has half the solar capacity of Germany - approximately 15 GW. While most of that comes from utility-scale projects, about one-third of the country's solar now comes from farms, homeowners and small businesses.
During the first half of 2012, solar installations in Italy grew robustly, adding about 2.5 GW to the grid.
In fact, Italy now has slightly more solar-generating capacity than wind - at the end of 2011, they supplied about 3% of the country's electricity, says Gestore dei Servizi Energetici.
But there are clouds on the horizon. Under its latest renewable energy act adopted in early July, Italy is setting aside less money for PV incentives and registration costs are also rising in the country, which has caused some independent research firms to temper their expectations for installations moving forward.
Lingering Uncertainty in Spain
Italy's new policies are still more favorable than the situation in Spain, where subsidies have been slashed and now solar developers worry they will be taxed on the power they generate.
In July, the Industry Ministry proposed levying a tax on solar, the country's most subsidized energy source, to help pay down the nation's ballooning debt. In late August, however, Spain's Budget Minister Cristobal Montoro said he would veto it because of long-term commitments to the industry.
"It's not decided," Montoro told Renewable Energy World. "They have decided to float the idea in the media but I have the final say on creation of taxes."
For some time, then, uncertainty will be part of investing in Spanish solar projects.
Denmark Reaches Solar Goal, Eight Years Early
Although Denmark plans to rely mostly on wind to reach its 2020 renewable energy target, it has already reached its modest solar goal for 200 megawatts (MW).
The country is installing approximately 36 MW of solar every month, according to government estimates. That could bring total solar capacity to 1 GW by 2020 and 3.4 GW by 2030, say Dansk Energi, Energinet.dk and DONG Energy.
“The demand for solar cells has increased dramatically since net metering was implemented in 2010," says Kim Schulz, a project manager with Invest in Denmark. "Net metering gives private households and public institutions the possibility of ‘storing’ surplus production in the public grid, which makes solar panels considerably more attractive.”
Denmark aims to get 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050; it already relies on clean energy for about 22% of electricity demand. Wind is expected to drive about 20% of Denmark's supply by 2020.
For the EU's latest statistics on worldwide solar installations: