Environment

Which Countries Are Driving the Global Renewable Energy Revolution?

Some nations have embraced a clean energy future, while others remain laggards.

The climate crisis is the gravest danger to our planet as we know it. Sea levels are rising higher each year, temperatures are hotter than ever before and glaciers have shrunk to record levels.

For many communities across the globe, this makes for a vicious cocktail that is brewing for disaster—a disaster that could lead us down the path of exponentially long droughts, an ice-free arctic, and ultimately, a worldwide famine. Some communities have already felt serious climate impacts.

This doesn’t have to be the only future for us. There are numerous ways we can end the climate crisis and bring about a new era of clean energy and a cleaner planet. Renewable energy is just one of the ways we can cut our oil addiction and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. But how many of us are embracing renewables as the future? How does your country compare to other countries around the world when it comes to embracing renewable energy?

To answer these questions, we analyzed data from around the world and have visualized a variety of statistics on renewable energies. Read on to learn more about renewable energy use and the types of renewable energy in use in countries all around the world.

Europe Renewable Energy Consumption as a total of energy consumption

Europe is the continent of culture. France has the art, wine and romance. Italy has the passion, history and pasta. And Ireland is the country of warming stews, Guinness and charm.

As the continent that birthed the Renaissance period, perhaps it is no surprise that Europe has a great passion for renewable energy. As a continent, only a handful of countries consume less than 10 percent of their energy from renewables. In fact, over 50 percent of the European countries analyzed find at least 20 percent of their energy needs from renewable sources.

The biggest players in the European renewable industry are the Nordic countries of Iceland, Norway and Sweden, with a surprise in Liechtenstein making up the top four. Iceland impressively sources over 76 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources with geothermal and hydropower supporting the 300,000-strong population.

The real surprise in this analysis is Liechtenstein. After it came in second, we decided to look at its renewable energy growth and sources a little closer. In 1990, the country sourced exactly zero percent of its energy from renewable sources. Today it sources over 60 percent of its energy from solar, wind and hydropower. That's an impressive growth of the renewable industry, and while its small size plays a role in its green success, Liechtenstein remains a good example to other countries of what's possible with dedication and a solid plan.

North America Renewable Energy Consumption as a total of energy consumption

The North American continent defines the vast inequalities in our world. In the same region lies the vastly rich United States, Canada and the Caribbean Islands, and the desperately poor Haiti, Jamaica and Mexico.

While it is no surprise that the United States is a world leader in renewable energy, providing the world with the technology and funding to make renewables a reality, is it embracing renewables to the extent that it could?

Interestingly, the U.S. only sources 8 percent of its total energy consumption from renewable sources. Compare that to Canada, which sources over 20 percent of its energy from renewables. Are American politicians doing enough to support the renewable industry?

Analyzing the data further, we found it was the poorer countries of Haiti, Guatemala and Nicaragua that are truly embracing renewables in North America.

Making up the top three, Haiti sources 78 percent of its energy from renewables, Guatemala 59 percent and Nicaragua 51 percent. Is this push toward renewables by poorer countries a reaction to rising fossil fuel prices?

Africa Renewable Energy Consumption as a total of energy consumption

As the second largest continent on earth and home to over 1.2 billion people, Africa is one of the most impoverished places on Earth. Once population is accounted for, Africa has the smallest GDP in the world, with an estimated GDP 10 times smaller than that of North America, Asia and Europe.

But in terms of renewably energy, Africa is one of the world's leaders. Exactly 30 countries source over 70 percent of their energy from renewables, with only five countries sourcing less than 10 percent of their energy from renewable sources.

Similar to our analysis in the North American region, this push toward renewables by poorer countries could be a reaction to the rising fossil fuel prices. The pattern so far seems to suggest this to be true.

Asia Renewable Energy Consumption as a total of energy consumption

As the largest continent, Asia has a population greater than that of all the other continents combined. Standing at 4.4 billion people strong, Asian countries have the mammoth task of supplying all their citizens with electricity. As it stands, experts say nearly 30 percent of Asia still has no access to electricity.

Renewables play a huge role in Asia’s energy consumption. As a world total, Asia generates 40 percent of the world’s renewable energy, with China playing a huge part in the investment, development and growth of renewable technologies.

With China’s support, countries like Laos, Bhutan and Myanmar are leading the way forward with over 70 percent of their electricity coming from renewables. One country that stands out in particular is Cambodia. From 0 percent of its energy generated using renewables in 1990 to now generating 67 percent of its energy from renewables, Cambodia has invested wisely in biogas, biofuel, geothermal and solar.

South America Renewable Energy Consumption as a total of energy consumption

South America is the most ecologically diverse continent on earth. Home to a stunning array of tropical rainforests, arid deserts, vast water systems and majestic mountain ranges, South America has one of the most important roles to play in tackling the current climate crisis.

As a continent, the 12 sovereign states contribute 15 percent of the world’s renewable energy capacity. When you consider the GDP of the region, that's pretty impressive. The biggest generator of renewables is Brazil, which as you can see below, generates the highest MW of energy in the bioenergy industry and is the third highest generator of energy using hydropower.

In terms of renewables as a total of energy consumption, Paraguay tops the leaderboard generating 63 percent of its energy from renewable sources. Uruguay and Honduras also perform well with each generating at least 50 percent of their energy from renewable sources.

Australasia Renewable Energy Consumption as a total of energy consumption

Apart from Antarctica, Australasia and Oceania represent the most sparsely populated continent. Made up of the three giant islands in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, the continent is comprised of tropical rainforests, arid desert, volcanoes and dry grasslands.

Analyzing data for 16 different islands in the region, we found that the Solomon Islands had the highest consumption of renewables as a total of energy consumption at 62 percent, followed by Papua New Guinea’s 50 percent and Samoa’s 42 percent. But across Australasia the rates of renewable energy consumption to a total of energy consumption hits below 10 percent. Australia, the richest country in the region, is one of the biggest surprises with only 9 percent of its energy coming from renewable sources.

Most Used Renewable Energy Source Worldwide

Next, we took a closer look at which of the main five renewables each country around the world uses the most. We’ve seen that renewable consumption varies greatly from country to country, but how much does the type of renewable change from country to country?

Analyzing a variety of datasets, we found that hydropower is by far and away the most popular type of renewable energy. The only real exceptions were a cluster of countries in the Middle East and North East Africa that have embraced solar power, and a number of European countries like Germany, Spain and Poland that have embraced wind power. The other small exception is Kenya, which surprisingly generates a large percentage of its energy from geothermal sources.

Interestingly, Kenya is one of the world leaders in renewable energies. Having embraced geothermal in the Rift Valley, Kenyans have also embraced wind, hydro and bioenergy in impressive numbers for an African country. In terms of MW capacity, it generates 26 percent of Africa’s entire renewable energy. Impressive.

Top 10 Countries With Highest Use of Renewable Energy, 2016

We also looked more specifically at which countries produce the most energy from renewable sources per renewable type. Analyzing data from across the solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal and bioenergy industries, we’ve noted down the top 10 in the graphic below. In terms of all-around performance, China is the world’s greatest when it comes to renewable energy. Following hot on the heels in almost all renewable types is the United States.

While the two superpowers in the U.S. and China featuring in the top 10 of this analysis will be of little surprise, there are some countries featuring in the top 10 of each renewable type that may be a little more unexpected. The Philippines has embraced geothermal energy to the tune of nearly 2000 MW capacity a year and it also features in our top 10 for solar power, too. Another surprise is Brazil, which features in the top 10 for bioenergy production, hydropower and wind power.

Top 10 Countries With Highest Use of Renewable Energy, 2000

So how have things changed over the last 16 years? To find out we’ve taken a closer look at the data per renewable type in the year 2000. Unsurprisingly, it will not be hard to believe that we are generating far more energy in 2016 with renewables than 16 years ago. In the year 2000, the top country—the United States—was producing 595 MW of energy using solar power. In 2016, the top country—Japan—is producing over 41,000 MW.

Another surprise is how the Germans have loosened their dominance over the renewable industry in the last 16 years. Featuring in the top three spots for almost every renewable type in the year 2000, Germany has now slipped down the leaderboard with countries like China and Brazil investing heavily in renewable energies.

You can see the German pattern in a number of European countries. In the year 2000, countries like the Netherlands, Greece and Switzerland featured in the top 10 for a range of renewable types. Today, they have moved down the rankings with the likes of India, the Philippines and Turkey moving into the top 10.

Total Renewable Energy Analysis, Regional, 2000-2016

We also looked at the data from a wider, more regional perspective. In 2000, 75 percent of the world’s total renewable energy capacity was equally split between Europe, Asia and North America. South America, Eurasia, Africa and the Middle East make up the other 25 percent.

However, things have changed drastically on a regional level over the last 16 years. Today, Asia has grown to be the biggest generator of electricity from renewable sources making up 40 percent of the world total. Europe has maintained its share losing only 1 percent of the total capacity, while North America as a whole drops off quite significantly, losing 7 percent of the total renewable energy share.

Sources

https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/energy-trends-section-6-renewables 
//www.irena.org/Publications/ReportsPaper2014New.aspx?mnu=cat&PriMenuID=36&CatID=141&type=all 
https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/renewables-statistics 
//www.ren21.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/GSR_2016_Full_Report.pdf 
https://www.eia.gov/beta/international/data/browser/#/?c=4100000002000060000000000000g000200000000000000001&vs=INTL.44-1-AFRC-QBTU.A&vo=0&v=H&start=1980&end=2014

Graphics courtesy Anchor Pumps.

Scott Taylor writes about the environment, recycling and renewable energy. He is based in Chester, England.