Which Country Has Most Renewable Energy?

Which country has most renewable energy?

Renewable energy sources like solar, wind, hydropower and biomass are playing an increasingly important role in electricity generation across the globe. As countries work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change, measuring renewable energy production by country provides valuable insights into the transition away from fossil fuels.

Understanding total renewable energy production shows which countries are leading in capacity buildout. Measuring the percentage of electricity from renewables reveals how much a country relies on clean sources versus fossil fuels. Tracking these metrics over time highlights the trajectories countries are taking to decarbonize their energy mix.

This analysis will examine renewable energy production by country using the latest data available. It will look at both total production and percentage of energy from renewable sources to provide a comprehensive comparison across nations.

Defining Renewable Energy

Renewable energy comes from natural sources or processes that are constantly replenished. The major types of renewable energy sources are:

  • Solar power – Technologies like photovoltaic panels and concentrated solar power harness energy from the sun to generate electricity or heat.
  • Wind power – Turbines convert the kinetic energy of wind into mechanical power or electricity.
  • Hydropower – The movement of water (rivers or ocean waves) is used to generate electricity with turbines.
  • Geothermal power – Heat from inside the earth is captured to heat buildings or generate electricity.
  • Biomass – Organic plant and animal waste can be used to produce electricity, fuel, heat, and biogas.

These renewable sources differ from finite sources like fossil fuels because they are constantly replenished by sunlight, water, wind, or heat from the earth’s core. As a result, they have less environmental impact than burning non-renewable fossil fuels.

Source: https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/renewable-sources/

Global Renewable Energy Production

Total global renewable energy production has grown rapidly over the past decade. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), renewables accounted for over 26% of total global electricity generation in 2018, up from just 19% in 2009 [1]. The IEA predicts renewables will supply 30% of electricity by 2024 [1].

The two main renewable energy sources with the highest growth are wind and solar PV. The share of wind and solar PV in total global renewable electricity generation doubled from 5% to 10% between 2009 and 2018 [1]. Total global renewable energy production reached nearly 6,300 TWh in 2018, with hydro providing the largest share at 16%, followed by wind at 6% and solar PV at 3% [2].

Measuring by Total Renewable Energy Production

When looking at total renewable energy production, China leads the world by a significant margin. According to Wikipedia, in 2019 China produced 921,000 GWh of renewable electricity, making up 31% of total global renewable electricity production [1]. The United States came in second, producing 330,000 GWh or around 11% of the global total. Other top producing countries were Brazil at 6.4%, Canada at 5.4% and India at 3.9% of total global renewable electricity production.

China’s dominance is largely due to its massive investments in wind, solar and hydro power over the past decade. The country added 119 GW of wind and solar capacity in 2019 alone as part of an ambitious push to reduce fossil fuel dependence and curb carbon emissions [2]. With the world’s largest population and a rapidly growing economy, China’s energy demands are enormous. This has motivated the country to quickly scale up renewables and become the renewable energy leader in total production terms.

Measuring by Percent of Energy from Renewables

When looking at renewable energy production by the percentage of a country’s total energy that comes from renewable sources, the leaders are:

Norway – According to this source, Norway produces 99% of its energy from renewable sources, making it the world leader. The country generates most of its energy from hydropower.

Iceland – Over 85% of Iceland’s energy comes from renewables, mainly geothermal and hydropower. The country has set a goal to reach 100% renewable energy production by 2050.

Costa Rica – In 2015, Costa Rica ran on 100% renewable energy for over 250 days. About 80% of the country’s energy supply comes from hydropower, while much of the remainder comes from geothermal, wind, and solar.

Other top countries include Denmark, Uruguay, and Ethiopia which get 50-90% of total energy from renewables through a mix of hydro, wind, solar, geothermal and biofuels.

Growth Rates of Renewables by Country

The growth rates of renewable energy vary significantly by country. According to the 2011 State of Green Business report, Turkey had the fastest growing renewable energy industry from 2006-2009 with a 99.33% compound annual growth rate (CAGR). China and South Korea followed with CAGRs of 66.67% and 62.92% respectively over that period [1].

Some factors that have enabled high growth rates for renewables in certain countries include favorable government policies like feed-in tariffs, falling technology costs, concern about energy security, and desire for domestic economic growth and job creation. Countries with ample renewable resources like strong winds, sunny climates, and fast moving rivers also tend to see faster growth as they take advantage of their natural assets.

Many developing countries have great potential for renewable energy growth. For example, some experts predict Ecuador will be one of the Latin American countries with the fastest growing renewable energy sectors in coming years, due to its high solar irradiation and hydro resources [2].

Challenges to Increasing Renewables

Many countries face barriers to increasing the share of renewables in their energy mix. According to the World Bank (Breaking Down Barriers to Clean Energy Transition), developing countries in particular face challenges related to weak governance, poorly designed subsidies, and inadequate infrastructure that risk paralyzing the clean energy transition. Specific barriers include:

  • Policy and Regulations – Outdated policies, excessive bureaucracy, and regulatory uncertainty create an unfavorable environment for renewable energy investment.
  • Subsidies for Fossil Fuels – Continued subsidies for fossil fuels make renewables less cost competitive in many markets.
  • Grid Infrastructure – Insufficient transmission infrastructure and grid management capabilities limit the ability to integrate large amounts of intermittent renewable energy.
  • Storage Technology – Immature and expensive storage technology constrains the penetration of variable renewables like solar PV and wind.
  • Access to Finance – Developing countries often lack access to affordable financing for renewable energy projects.

Overcoming these challenges requires concerted efforts in governance, infrastructure development, technological advancement, and access to finance. With the right policies and investments, countries can rapidly accelerate the transition to renewable energy.

Predictions for the Future

Many analysts project continued strong growth in renewable energy production globally in the coming decades. According to a report by The Economist Intelligence Unit, China is expected to lead renewable energy production by 2050, generating over 8,000 TWh annually. The European Union is projected to be the second largest producer at nearly 5,500 TWh, followed by the United States at over 5,000 TWh. Other major producers will include India at around 3,000 TWh and Brazil at nearly 1,500 TWh. Overall, global renewable energy generation is forecasted to reach 27,000 TWh by 2050.

The growth rates for renewable energy are expected to vary by country and region. For example, the EIU report projects China’s renewable production to grow at an annual rate of 6.1% through 2050. The EU is estimated to see slower growth at 1.3% annually, while India could grow at a rapid 7.6% per year. Global renewable energy production as a whole is predicted to increase at 3.7% annually. If these growth trends continue, renewables will play an increasingly important role in energy systems around the world in the coming decades.

(Sources: The Economist Intelligence Unit – Global Maritime Trends 2050, Global Maritime Trends 2050 Report)

Key Takeaways

When looking at total renewable energy production, China leads the world by a significant margin, producing over a quarter of the world’s total renewable energy. However, on a percentage basis, several smaller European countries like Iceland, Norway and Sweden generate nearly all their electricity from renewable sources. The costs of renewables like solar and wind have dropped dramatically in the last decade, leading to explosive growth in countries like China and the United States. However, the intermittency of solar and wind presents grid integration challenges. Looking ahead, renewables are expected to continue their rapid growth, with most scenarios showing renewables generating over half the world’s electricity by 2050.

The key countries leading in renewables currently are China, United States, Brazil and Germany based on total production. However, smaller countries like Iceland, Norway and Sweden generate nearly 100% of their electricity from renewables already. The future looks bright for renewables, with costs continuing to decline and most forecasts predicting renewables will generate at least 50% of global electricity by 2050.


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