How Is The World’S Electricity Produced?

Electricity is fundamental to modern life. It powers our homes, businesses, hospitals, schools, and transportation systems. There are several major sources for generating electricity around the world:

– Fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas

– Nuclear power

– Hydropower from dams and hydroelectric plants

– Renewable energy sources like wind, solar, geothermal, and bioenergy

The global electricity mix varies by region and country. Some rely more heavily on fossil fuels while others get most of their power from renewables and nuclear. Overall, fossil fuels supply about two-thirds of the world’s electricity. However, renewable energy is the fastest growing electricity source as countries seek to reduce carbon emissions and invest in clean energy.

This article provides an overview of the major electricity generation sources worldwide and their relative contribution. It also looks at trends and the potential future of electricity production globally.

Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil account for about 65% of the world’s electricity generation. Many countries still rely heavily on fossil fuels to meet electricity demand. For example, Australia generates over 60% of its electricity from coal alone. Other countries dependent on fossil fuels include South Africa (89% from coal), Saudi Arabia (90% from oil and natural gas), and Russia (46% from natural gas).

fossil fuels supply about two-thirds of the world's electricity

While fossil fuels remain the dominant source of electricity globally, they come with major environmental impacts. Burning fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Coal power plants also emit pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter that cause acid rain and respiratory illnesses. Large amounts of water are used for cooling in thermal power stations as well. The environmental effects have prompted efforts to transition to cleaner energy sources.


Nuclear power currently provides around 10% of the world’s electricity. The top nuclear energy producing countries are the United States, France, China, Russia, and South Korea. Nuclear power offers the advantages of being low-carbon and having reliable output. However, it also comes with major safety concerns due to the risk of nuclear meltdowns and accidents, as well as the problem of nuclear waste storage. Major nuclear accidents include Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011, both of which resulted in radioactive contamination. Opponents argue that the dangers of nuclear accidents are too high, while proponents say new reactor designs are much safer.


Hydropower is an important source of renewable electricity around the world. It currently accounts for around 16% of the world’s electricity production. The top countries for hydroelectric generation are China, Brazil, Canada, the United States, and Russia. Together, these five countries produce over half of the world’s hydropower.

Hydropower offers several benefits. It is a clean source of renewable energy that produces no direct waste or pollution. Hydropower is also flexible – plants can adjust output to meet changing demands for electricity. Dams used for hydropower can also provide flood control, irrigation, and recreation. However, hydropower also has some drawbacks. Damming rivers can negatively impact wildlife habitats and lead to the relocation of populations living in the flooded areas. Dams are expensive to build and can be impacted by droughts if water levels drop too low.


Wind power has seen tremendous growth in recent decades to become one of the leading renewable energy sources worldwide. The costs of wind turbines and wind farm operations have declined, making wind power competitive with fossil fuels in many markets. Countries with ample wind resources and supportive policies have rapidly scaled up wind power capacity.

China leads the world in installed wind power capacity, followed by the United States and Germany. Several European countries like Denmark, Spain and Ireland have also embraced wind power. The best onshore wind sites with strong and steady winds have largely been utilized in developed countries. Offshore wind farms present an opportunity to harness stronger and more consistent offshore winds, despite higher costs. Floating offshore wind technologies open up deeper offshore regions to wind power development.

Onshore wind is the most prevalent today, accounting for over 90% of global wind power capacity. But offshore wind is growing rapidly, especially in Europe. Offshore turbines are larger and more efficient, but require more expensive subsea cables and foundations. While permitting and siting can be challenging on land, offshore wind has fewer restrictions. However, operations and maintenance costs are higher offshore.

Solar Power

Solar power has experienced rapid growth in recent years, thanks to falling costs and supportive policies. The two main technologies are solar photovoltaics (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP). Solar PV converts sunlight directly into electricity using semiconductor cells. CSP uses mirrors to concentrate sunlight to heat a fluid and drive a steam turbine.

Global solar PV capacity has increased over 200-fold since 2000 to over 600 gigawatts. CSP capacity is much lower at around 6 gigawatts but also growing fast. China is the clear leader in total solar capacity, followed by the US, Japan, and Germany. However, countries like Honduras and Greece generate a greater share of their electricity from solar.

Most solar is generated at large utility-scale plants. But rooftop solar on homes, businesses and industrial sites is also rising rapidly. Rooftop systems now represent over 40% of global solar PV capacity. The growth of rooftop solar has enabled more consumers to generate their own renewable power. However, it also creates challenges for utilities to manage the variable power flows.


Geothermal energy plays a significant role in electricity production worldwide. The Earth’s natural heat can be harnessed and used to generate power in select locations. Major geothermal resources exist along tectonic plate boundaries and volcanic hotspots.

The top countries utilizing geothermal for electricity include the United States, Philippines, Indonesia, Mexico, Italy, and New Zealand. In 2020, geothermal accounted for about 0.3% of total global electricity generation. The installed geothermal power capacity worldwide is about 15 GW.

While geothermal currently contributes a small percentage of the world’s electricity supply, its future potential is significant. With advanced technologies, the global geothermal resource is estimated at over 200 GW of electricity generation capacity. Countries with substantial untapped reserves include the U.S., Philippines, Indonesia, Mexico, Kenya, Iceland, New Zealand, and Central America. With further exploration and development, geothermal could provide clean, renewable base load power to many more countries in the decades ahead.


Bioenergy refers to energy derived from biomass, which is organic material from plants and animals. Bioenergy is a renewable energy source as biomass can regrow over time. It is one of the main sources for producing electricity globally.

The major sources of bioenergy used for generating electricity are:

  • Wood and wood processing wastes – These include sawdust, timber slash, wood chips, bark, and black liquor from pulp and paper mills. Burning wood is one of the oldest sources of energy for humanity.

  • Agricultural crops and waste – Energy crops like corn, sugarcane, and fast growing trees are purposely grown for energy production. Agricultural residues like straw and corn stover are also used.

  • Food, yard, and wood waste – Organic municipal solid waste like food scraps, grass clippings, and scrap wood can be used as feedstock.

  • Landfill gas and biogas – Biogas produced from the breakdown of organic matter in landfills and digesters can be collected and used for energy.

  • Animal manure – Manure from livestock operations can be converted into electricity through anaerobic digestion.

These biomass resources are burned directly for heat or converted into solids, liquids, and gases to generate electricity through combustion, gasification, pyrolysis, and anaerobic digestion technologies.

The Future

The world’s electricity production is expected to undergo major changes in the coming decades. Renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are projected to see massive growth, while fossil fuels may begin to decline.

By 2040, renewable energy is predicted to supply up to 50% of the world’s electricity, up from 25% today. Solar and wind will account for most of this increase. Cost declines and technological improvements are making renewables more competitive with fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, coal is expected to peak and then start to fall as a share of global electricity generation. Natural gas may grow modestly or remain steady. Oil is projected to supply only a tiny fraction of electricity going forward.

Government policies to address climate change are accelerating the transition to clean energy in many parts of the world. However, access to electricity in developing countries is also increasing, which adds to overall demand. Striking the right balance between clean energy growth and meeting new demand will be critical.


In summary, electricity is generated from a diverse mix of energy sources around the world. Fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and oil make up the largest share of global electricity production, but renewable sources like hydropower, wind and solar are expanding rapidly. Nuclear power also provides a significant fraction of electricity in some regions. Each energy source has different economic, technical and environmental tradeoffs that determine its utilization. Looking ahead, growth in renewables and a move away from fossil fuels will be required to meet climate change mitigation goals. But adequacy, affordability and reliability of electricity supply remains a priority for all countries. There is no single perfect energy source, and diversity of generation helps maintain grid resilience. Further innovation and policies that enable clean electrification will shape the future of power production worldwide.

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