This map uses 2006 data to rank countries by their amount of electricity generated by solar energy. Germany is the global leader in solar energy production, with 2,220 gigawatt hours of solar energy produced in 2006.

Graphics courtesy National Geographic Society
  • This complex infographic contains three distinct sets of information.

    The data displayed on the left explain the amount of electricity that could be generated from renewable sources, as well as how electricity is actually generated.

    The coloration of the world map displays the amount of available solar energy. The numbers tell the actual amount of solar power generated by selected countries.

    The map of the American Southwest displays regions in the area that could host solar-energy facilities.

    Use the zoom tool to study these graphics and answer the questions in the following tab.

    1. According to "Ranking the Renewables," the graphic on the left, what renewable energy source has the greatest potential to generate electricity?

      Solar power, using photovoltaic technology, holds the most potential. According to the graphic, solar photovoltaic power could generate more than 470,000 terawatt-hours of electricity.

    2. What is the world's most popular renewable source of electricity?

      According to "Ranking the Renewables," hydropower (mostly generated by dams on rivers) was the most popular source of renewable energy in 2006. Hydropower accounted for more than 16 percent of the electricity generated that year.

    3. Most of this infographic is colored in shades of yellow and orange. Why do you think the artist chose to color a circle in "Ranking the Renewables" purple?

      Almost all the data displayed in "Ranking the Renewables" are about renewable energy. The purple circle represents the only data about nonrenewable energy, and is meant to stand out from the rest.

    4. According to the world map in this infographic, Africa is hit with the greatest amount of solar radiation, and may have the greatest potential for solar power. What other continents display similar potential?

      The Arabian Peninsula (Asia) and northwestern Australia (Oceania) have similar coloring, indicating similar amounts of solar radiation.

    5. The information provided with "The Solar Southwest," the map on the right, says "Some environmentalists oppose the land- and water-hungry" solar-energy projects.

      Locate the American Southwest on this layer of the MapMaker Interactive. Now, compare the land-cover data with potential sites for solar-energy projects displayed in "The Solar Southwest." Why do you think environmentalists would criticize these "water-hungry" projects?

      Almost all the ideal sites for solar-energy projects are in deserts—identified as "bare ground" in the land-cover layer of the MapMaker Interactive.

      Water for these projects would most likely have to come from the Colorado River, which is already vital to the health, development, and agriculture of the American Southwest.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    electricity Noun

    set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and flow of electric charge.

    fossil fuel Noun

    coal, oil, or natural gas. Fossil fuels formed from the remains of ancient plants and animals.

    infographic Noun

    visual representation of data. Also called information graphic or graphic.

    photovoltaic Adjective

    able to convert solar radiation to electrical energy.

    renewable energy Noun

    energy obtained from sources that are virtually inexhaustible and replenish naturally over small time scales relative to the human life span.

    solar energy Noun

    radiation from the sun.

    Encyclopedic Entry: solar energy
    solar power Noun

    rate of producing, transferring, or using solar energy.