Which Country Was The First To Run Completely On Renewable Energy?

As climate change becomes an increasing threat, countries around the world are taking steps to transition to renewable energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower. The goal is to reduce dependence on fossil fuels like coal and gas which contribute heavily to greenhouse gas emissions that drive global warming. Some countries aim to be 100% renewable or carbon neutral within the next couple of decades. But which country achieved being the first in the world to be powered entirely by renewables?


Iceland is widely considered the first country in the world to produce 100% of its electricity from renewable energy sources. The island nation, located in the North Atlantic Ocean just south of the Arctic Circle, generates the vast majority of its energy from geothermal and hydropower sources.

Thanks to Iceland’s unique geology with ample geothermal activity and glaciers, the country is able to tap these natural resources to operate 100% on renewables. Iceland has high levels of geothermal activity, with hot springs, geysers, and underground steam vents across the island. This allows Iceland to generate geothermal power by using the heat from the earth to produce steam to drive turbines and generate electricity.

Iceland also relies heavily on hydropower from the country’s plentiful glaciers and rivers to provide renewable electricity. Major hydropower plants have been built across Iceland’s river systems over the past century. The combination of geothermal and hydropower provides nearly 100% of Iceland’s electricity needs, allowing the country to essentially eliminate fossil fuels for power generation.


Paraguay generates most of its electricity from two massive hydroelectric dams – the Itaipu dam on its border with Brazil and the Yacyretá dam on its border with Argentina. These two hydroelectric plants provide the country with over 90% of its electricity needs. Paraguay operates the two dams jointly with its neighbors – Itaipu with Brazil and Yacyretá with Argentina. However, Paraguay owns the majority of the generation capacity and is able to export its excess hydropower. This has allowed Paraguay to become one of the world’s largest exporters of hydroelectricity. For its domestic needs, Paraguay uses only around half the electricity generated at Itaipu and Yacyretá, with the rest exported. Therefore, Paraguay meets nearly all its electricity needs from renewable hydro sources, making it one of the first countries to be powered almost exclusively by renewable energy.


Norway generates most of its electricity from hydropower, thanks to its mountainous landscape and abundant rainfall. Hydropower provides around 95-98% of the country’s total electricity production. The main hydropower plants are located in the mountainous central and western parts of Norway, where annual precipitation rates can exceed 3,000 mm.

Norway’s hydropower capacity totals around 30 GW, most of which comes from reservoirs. Pumped storage hydropower stations account for around half of the reservoir capacity. Norway’s largest power station is Kvilldal power plant with a capacity of 1,240 MW.

Norway also has the largest electricity production per inhabitant in the world, with almost all of its domestic electricity needs met by hydropower. The country’s abundant renewable electricity has supported electrification of most major sectors including transport, buildings and industry.

While Norway still relies on fossil fuels for sectors like transportation, its domestic energy supply is nearly 100% renewable thanks to hydropower. The country is a large exporter of oil and gas, but domestic consumption comes almost exclusively from renewable sources.

New Zealand

New Zealand generates over 80% of its electricity from renewable sources. The country has significant geothermal and hydropower resources that enable renewable energy production. Geothermal power alone accounts for about 17% of New Zealand’s electricity generation. The country has about 1,000 hot springs that are suitable for geothermal power production. There are several large geothermal power stations located across the North Island. The largest one is the Wairakei power station which has 14 geothermal plants and generates about 460 MW of electricity.

Hydropower is also a major source of renewable electricity in New Zealand. About 55% of the country’s electricity comes from hydropower plants. There are 54 large hydro dams across New Zealand’s mountainous terrain that generate over 5,000 MW of hydroelectricity. Major hydropower schemes are located at Lake Manapouri, Clutha River, and Waitaki River. With abundant geothermal and hydropower resources, New Zealand has managed to sustainably meet its electricity needs while reducing dependence on fossil fuels.


Uruguay has emerged as a global leader in renewable energy development in recent years. The small South American country has invested heavily in wind, solar, and hydropower to transform its electricity generation. Today, approximately 95% of Uruguay’s electricity comes from renewable sources.

The shift toward renewables in Uruguay began in the early 2000s and has accelerated in the last decade. The country has focused especially on developing its considerable wind and hydropower resources. As of 2018, wind accounted for 22% of electricity generation in Uruguay, while hydropower made up 36%. Solar power is also growing quickly, supplying around 2% as of 2018.

Uruguay’s focus on renewables is driven by a desire for greater energy independence. With no domestic fossil fuel reserves, Uruguay has to import oil and gas to meet its energy needs. Investing in wind, solar, hydropower and other renewables has allowed the country to rely primarily on its own natural resources. The transition has also brought down costs, with renewable energy often cheaper than fossil fuels.

Uruguay aims to generate 98% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2022. The country is already close to achieving this goal. Its success demonstrates that with supportive policies and investment, small countries can transition toward near 100% renewable electricity in a relatively short timeframe.

Costa Rica Has Run Mostly on Renewables Since 2015

Costa Rica stands out as a renewable energy success story. This small Central American nation generates over 99% of its electricity from renewable sources as of 2015.

The country has achieved this renewable energy feat through heavy reliance on hydropower. Costa Rica generates around 80% of its electricity from hydropower dams. The vast majority comes from large hydroelectric dams, with Lake Arenal Dam being the largest. However, Costa Rica has also increasingly adopted smaller run-of-river hydro projects.

Beyond hydropower, Costa Rica generates most of the remainder of its electricity from geothermal, wind, biomass and solar sources. Thanks to its heavy use of renewable hydropower, Costa Rica has managed to power its grid almost entirely from clean energy since 2015.


Ethiopia is making major strides in renewable energy, largely through developing its vast hydropower potential. The country has tremendous water resources, with 12 river basins and a technical hydropower potential of over 45,000 megawatts. Ethiopia has already constructed several large hydropower dams, including the Gibe III dam completed in 2016, which is the second largest dam in Africa and generates 1,870 megawatts of power. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, slated for completion in 2023, will be the largest hydropower plant in Africa with a capacity of 6,000 megawatts.

Hydropower now accounts for over 85% of Ethiopia’s electricity generation. With abundant water resources and ideal topography for dams, hydropower will continue being the backbone of Ethiopia’s renewable energy push. The country aims to expand hydropower capacity to 17,300 megawatts by 2037. This major hydropower expansion, along with growth in other renewables such as wind and geothermal, will enable Ethiopia to meet rising electricity demand fully through renewable sources in the coming years.


Lesotho is a small, landlocked country surrounded completely by South Africa. While not 100% renewable yet, Lesotho has made major strides in developing renewable energy, especially hydropower. The country gets most of its renewable electricity from the massive Highlands Water Project.

The Highlands Water Project centers around the Katse Dam, completed in 1997, and the Mohale Dam, completed in 2003. These two dams provide water storage and hydroelectric power generation for Lesotho. Katse Dam has a capacity of 185 MW while Mohale Dam has a capacity of 72 MW. The two dams together provide nearly half of Lesotho’s electricity needs.

Lesotho’s abundant water resources and mountainous geography make hydropower an obvious energy solution. The dams have enabled Lesotho to export electricity to South Africa as well, providing an important source of revenue. While hydropower leads renewables for now, Lesotho is also exploring wind, solar and geothermal energy to continue diversifying its energy mix.


As we have seen, Iceland was the first country in the world to generate 100% of its electricity from renewable energy sources. Through its vast geothermal and hydroelectric resources, Iceland has managed to transition away from fossil fuels for power generation. This is a remarkable achievement that demonstrates the feasibility of renewables to meet electricity needs.

Looking ahead, more countries will likely join Iceland in running completely on renewables as clean energy technology advances and prices continue to fall. The costs of wind and solar power have declined dramatically in recent years, making them competitive with fossil fuels in many parts of the world. With the right policies and investments in place, renewable energy could expand significantly in the coming decades.

Though Iceland was first, other countries like Paraguay, Norway and Costa Rica are close behind with 98-99% of their electricity from renewables. The transition to 100% renewable power is within reach for these nations. With Iceland lighting the way, the prospect of a fossil fuel-free future seems more attainable.

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