Who Uses The Most Renewable Energy In The World?

Renewable energy comes from natural sources that are continuously replenished, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. Some of the main renewable energy sources are solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass. Renewable energy is important because it is sustainable, infinite, and clean. Unlike fossil fuels which are finite and emit greenhouse gases, renewable energy sources are generally unlimited and do not produce carbon emissions. Renewable energy helps mitigate climate change, reduces pollution, diversifies energy supply, and creates jobs and economic growth. With concerns over energy security, dependence on imported fuels, and environmental impacts of conventional energy, there is a growing need to transition to renewable energy sources. This raises the key question of which countries currently lead the world in total renewable energy use and integration.

Leading Countries by Total Renewable Energy Use

When looking at total renewable energy use, including electricity, heating, cooling, and transport, several countries stand out as top adopters.

China is the world leader in total renewable energy consumption, producing over 895 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) annually. This can be attributed to China’s massive investments in renewable energy like solar, wind, and hydropower as part of its effort to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and improve air quality. [1]

The United States comes in second, with renewable energy use of nearly 310 Mtoe. Tax incentives and state policies have helped drive growth in U.S. renewable energy production from sources like biomass, hydropower, wind, and solar. [2]

Brazil produces around 300 Mtoe of renewable energy annually, largely from biofuels and hydropower. These sources account for over 80% of Brazil’s electricity matrix. [3]

Germany and India round out the top five, producing around 200 Mtoe and 185 Mtoe of renewable energy per year, respectively. Germany’s Energiewende transition has rapidly grown its wind and solar capacity while India is expanding renewables to meet rising energy demand and improve energy access.

Leading Countries by Percentage of Renewables

According to the World Economic Forum, as of 2021 the top 5 countries using the highest percentage of renewable energy are:

  1. Iceland – 76%
  2. Norway – 72%
  3. Sweden – 59%
  4. Denmark – 50%
  5. Uruguay – 44%

Iceland generates virtually all of its electricity from renewable sources, mainly hydropower and geothermal. The country’s unique geology allows it to tap into abundant hydro and geothermal resources. Iceland is also working to further reduce reliance on fossil fuels in transportation with electric cars and hydrogen vehicles (source).

Norway relies heavily on hydropower for most of its renewable electricity production. The country also uses wind, bioenergy and solar to meet high renewable energy targets. By 2030, Norway aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55% compared to 1990 levels (source).

China’s Renewable Energy Use

China leads the world in total renewable energy capacity, with over 920 GW installed as of 2021, accounting for about one-third of total global renewable capacity according to Reuters1. The country has invested heavily in renewable energy development, especially wind and solar, as part of efforts to reduce reliance on coal and combat air pollution.

wind turbines and solar panels generating renewable electricity

China had over 350 GW of hydropower capacity in 2021, the most in the world. It also accounted for over one-third of global wind energy capacity and nearly one-third of global solar PV capacity that year2. China added 136 GW of wind and solar capacity alone in 2021 as it pushes to meet its carbon reduction goals. Renewables made up 27% of China’s electricity generation mix in 2021, up from just 7% in 2007 according to IEA data.

Despite leading in total capacity, as a percentage of its energy mix, China still relies heavily on coal power, which supplied about 56% of its electricity in 2021. But the country aims to continue rapidly growing its renewable energy capacity over the next decade to meet rising demand and hit peak emissions by 2030.

United States’ Renewable Energy Use

The United States is one of the leading countries in terms of total renewable energy generation and consumption. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in 2021 the U.S. generated 12.9% of its total energy from renewable sources, including hydropower, wind, solar, geothermal and biomass (EIA). This represents steady growth, as just 10 years ago in 2011 the percentage was 8.5%.

The main renewable energy sources used in the U.S. are hydroelectric power and wind energy. In 2021, hydroelectric accounted for 28% of total U.S. renewable generation while wind power accounted for 26%. The next largest sources were biomass (22%), solar (11%) and geothermal (10%) (EIA). Renewable energy generation has grown rapidly, increasing 90% over the past 10 years. The U.S. set new records for installed wind and solar capacity in 2020.

The U.S. federal government has set a goal for the country to reach 100% clean electricity by 2035. This will require major investments and rapid scaling up of solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal and other zero-emission energy sources across the country. Each state has also implemented its own renewable portfolio standards and incentives to encourage the transition.

Germany’s Transition to Renewables

Germany has undertaken an ambitious energy transition plan known as the Energiewende. The goal of the Energiewende is to combat climate change by significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions through a transition to renewable energy sources.

By 2030, Germany aims to generate at least 65% of its electricity from renewable sources, up from 46% in 2020 (source). This will require phasing out nuclear power by 2022 and coal-fired generation by 2038. Germany hopes to obtain 80% of its total energy from renewables by 2050, including electricity, heating, and transport (source).

The transition focuses heavily on wind and solar power. Germany is a world leader in installed wind and solar capacity. Major policies supporting renewables include feed-in tariffs for generating renewable electricity and priority grid access for renewable power. However, the transition has faced challenges due to the intermittency and variability of wind and solar power.

Germany’s Energiewende demonstrates that an industrialized country can ambitious undertake a major transition of its energy system to fight climate change. It provides an example that other countries could potentially follow. However, the costs and technical challenges are substantial. Germany’s success or failure will impact the global energy transition for years to come.

Developing Countries Adopting Renewables

Many developing countries have been rapidly expanding their use of renewable energy in recent years. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), developing countries need to invest around $1.7 trillion annually in renewable energy to meet climate goals, but so far have only attracted about $150 billion in investments (UNCTAD). However, some developing nations have made impressive strides. For example, Kenya generates over 90% of its electricity from geothermal and hydropower sources. Morocco has built massive solar farms and wind farms to provide over 35% of its energy from renewables. Other countries like Chile, Egypt, and South Africa have also invested heavily in solar and wind projects to tap into their abundant renewable resources.

Several factors are driving the adoption of renewables in the developing world. The falling costs of wind and solar technology have made them more affordable. Developing nations also often lack existing fossil fuel infrastructure, making it easier for them to leapfrog directly to clean energy rather than having to retrofit existing systems. The plentiful renewable resources found in many developing countries provide ideal conditions for solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower. International development funding and climate investment has also helped finance renewable projects in poorer nations. Despite challenges in attracting sufficient investment, some developing countries clearly recognize the economic and environmental benefits of transitioning to renewable energy.

Challenges for Widespread Renewable Adoption

There are several key challenges that need to be addressed for renewable energy growth to accelerate globally. Some of the main obstacles include:

Intermittency and variability – Many renewable sources like solar and wind are intermittent, meaning they are not available on demand 24/7. The variability in energy production can make integrating large amounts of renewables onto the grid challenging (Challenges in Renewable Energy).

Infrastructure and transmission – Existing energy infrastructure like power grids were built for fossil fuel generation and may need upgrades to handle distributed renewable generation. New transmission lines are often needed to connect the best renewable resource sites to load centers (What are the problems faced by renewable energy?).

High upfront capital costs – Constructing renewable power plants requires significant upfront investment. This can be a barrier, especially in developing countries that may lack access to affordable financing options.

Policy and regulatory hurdles – Renewable energy growth needs supportive policies like feed-in tariffs, renewable portfolio standards, and permitting. A lack of stable, long-term policies can hamper investment and development.

Social acceptance – Some renewable projects like wind and solar farms or hydropower dams have faced local opposition and lengthy approval processes. Community engagement and gaining social license is crucial.

To overcome these challenges, governments, businesses, and society will need to work together to continue enabling renewable energy to grow and provide an increasing share of global energy demand.

Future Outlook

The future growth and adoption of renewable energy worldwide looks very promising. According to earth.org, solar energy costs are projected to decrease by 35% by 2024, while onshore wind capacity is expected to increase by 57%. There are strong economic incentives for countries to invest in renewables, as prices continue falling while technology improves.

Many experts predict renewables will dominate global electricity production in the coming decades. The International Renewable Energy Agency forecasts renewables growing from 26% of global power generation in 2018 to 86% by 2050 under an ambitious energy transformation scenario. Key factors driving this transition include climate policy, tech advances, and competitive pricing.

Developing nations are expected to lead the adoption of renewables in the future as they build up power infrastructure. Countries like India, Brazil, and parts of Africa and Southeast Asia will drive growth as renewables become the cheapest option. Challenges remain around scaling storage and modernizing grids, but the overall trajectory is strongly upwards.

With most new capacity being renewable, fossils fuels will phase out. The world is experiencing a historic energy transition to sustainable low-carbon sources. If current trends hold, renewables will transform worldwide electricity generation and help mitigate climate change.


In summary, China leads the world in total renewable energy use, though it still relies heavily on coal. Germany is a leader in adopting renewables as a percentage of total energy use through its Energiewende transition. Developing countries are rapidly expanding their renewable energy capacities as costs decrease. While progress has been made, challenges remain for more widespread renewable energy adoption worldwide. Key leaders in renewable energy use include China, the United States, Germany, and India. With continued government support and technological advances, renewable energy production is positioned to grow substantially in the coming decades.

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