Which Countries Use the Most Renewable Energy? By Percentage

Last week I posted a list of the 5 Countries that produce the most renewable energy.  Not suprisingly, the countries on the list tended to be large countries that also consumed the highest amounts of electricity.  In fact, three of the countries on the list were also in the top 5 Coal consumers.

While it is definately worth recognizing those countries for increasing the amount of renewable electricity generation in their country and worldwide, I thought (and readers agreed) that we should take a look at which countries produce the largest portion of their electricity from renewable sources.  In this way, we can see which countries have invested the most in setting up a sustainable energy future, regardless of size.  So, with that I give you the Top 5 Renewable Energy Producer’s by Percentage:

note:  This ranking was tough to determine, based on several different sources, with different classifications of renewable energy, different data sets, and different publish dates.  So if you disagree with a ranking, or think that I left out a country, comment and let me know!

We’ll start with #5 and count down in order to create some suspense.

#5.  Germany

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to any to see Germany make this list, with their declaration in 2011 that they will close all of their nuclear power plants by 2022.  Germany has become the worlds largest producer of solar power, while diversifying their energy portfolio with large portions of wind and biomass electricity as well.  As of 2011, Germany generated roughly 20% of their electricity from non-hydro renewable energy, 8% from wind, 8% from biomass, and 3% from solar.  Since then, the country has expanded solar production to account for close to 10% of their average annual electricity needs!

Germany has acheived this through agressive subsidies and ‘feed in tariffs’, and it hasn’t been without criticism, but it certainly shows the country’s commitment to renewable energy and has made them a leader.

#4.  Spain

Spain has become one of the world leaders in wind power, and recently set the world record in wind electricity production.  In 2011, renewable energy accounted for 22.3% of Spain’s electricity production, with 15% coming from wind (now more like 20-25%), 3% from solar (now 5%) and 2% from biomass.

These recent increase could have placed them higher on the list, but the other entrants have been increasing the renewable portfolios as well.  It should be noted that Spain has added to their significant debt problem in building this infrastructure, but has also made strong investments for the future and placed them near the front of the pack for clean energy generation.

#3. Portugal

Portugal is another heavy hitter when it comes to wind production.  In 2011, wind accounted for 20% of the country’s electricity, added to biomass (5%), and some solar and wave production as well to bring their total renewable production to 25.3% of their electricity portfolio.

Wave Farm in Portugal via inhabitat.com

Wave Farm in Portugal
via inhabitat.com

Portugal had good reason to diversify their electricity generation:  In the past, the country depended on hydroelectricity for over half of their energy, but the output of those facilities varied greatly due to droughts.

#2. Iceland

Iceland is well known for its commitment towards sustainable practices, and has made good use of their unique resources.  The country is blessed/cursed with large amounts of volcanic activity (Eyjafjallajökull anyone?) that give the small island vast amounts of geothermal potential.  They harness this heat to produce steam and turn their generators, creating a whopping 26% of their electricity.

Eerie geothermal plant in Reykjavik via nationalgeographic.com

Eerie geothermal plant in Reykjavik
via nationalgeographic.com

Iceland might just have the most renewable energy production in the world when you take into account that they use the same geothermal resources to heat almost all of their homes.  If you count hydroelectricity, then the country is 100% renewable.  Not every country has the ability to harness geothermal the way Iceland does, but they are sure making the most of it!

and the country that gets the largest portion of their electricity from renewable sources is….

#1. Denmark

Denmark produces nearly half of their electricity from renewable sources (45%), making them the leader in renewable energy by percentage.  30% of their power comes from wind alone, and another 15% from biomass.  They aren’t stopping there either: the country plans to get half of their power from wind alone by 2021.

Offshore wind farm in Denmark via dvice.com

Offshore wind farm in Denmark
via dvice.com

Denmark is demonstrating to the world that wind power can in fact be a significant portion of a country’s electrical production.  By making use of offshore wind farms, there are reducing some of the land requirements and tapping offshore resources as well!

So there you have it.  Notice anything about the list?  All but one of the countries in the top 5 are European Union members.  That is due in large part to the European Commision’s goal of getting 20% of all power by 2020. (20 by 2020, catchy.)  As you can see, these five countries are already well beyond that goal, and helping to raise the average of their fellow EU members.  Another factor that can’t be ignored, however, is the fact that Europe has been dealing with much higher fossil fuel prices than other areas such as North America, and have much more incentive to embrace alternative energy sources.  As I mentioned, some of these countries have incuured significant debt in order to make these developments feasible, which can serve as a warning to others.  But, it’s also important to note that the citizens of these nations are willing to take on sometimes additional costs in order to make a major dent into the region’s carbon emmisions.  Let these countries serves as examples for the rest of us!

 

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/03/24/sunday-review/how-much-electricity-comes-from-renewable-sources.html?_r=0

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/02/08/germany-has-five-times-as-much-solar-power-as-the-u-s-despite-alaska-levels-of-sun/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_power_in_Germany

 http://www.dvice.com/2013-4-2/25-percent-denmark-now-powered-exclusively-wind 

http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2013/05/penetration-of-renewable-energy-in-selected-markets

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_power_in_Iceland

http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/geothermal-profile/

http://www.renewablesinternational.net/spain-sets-record-for-wind-power-production/150/537/60321/

http://ec.europa.eu/energy/renewables/index_en.htm

Which Countries Use the Most Renewable Energy?

As we head into this Memorial Day weekend, I wanted to write a quick post listing the countries that use the most renewable energy.

That question is proving to be a little trickier than I thought.  First of all, what is renewable, what is not?  Some statistics include hydroelectric and biomass, others do not.  Some indexes forget to include geothermal.  In addition, is it better to look at total energy production from renewable sources, percentage of overall production, or actual consumption of renewable electricity?

For this post, let’s look at TOTAL energy production from renewable sources including Wind, Solar, Geothermal, and Biomass.  (Why did I leave out Hydroelectricity? Based on overall environmental impact.  More on that later.)

Given these parameters, lets look at the Top 5 Renewable Energy Producers by country:

1. The U.S.A.

Image

‘merica.

That’s right, according to the Christian Science Monitor, as of 2011, the US produced more renewable energy than other nation, responsible for 24.7% of renewable energy production.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Germany

german-flag[1]

Germany has made a huge commitment towards renewable energy, vowing to eliminate all nuclear by 2022.  In 2011, Germany accounted for 11.7% of global renewable energy.

 

 

 

 

3. Spain

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Though it is a net importer of energy, Spain is known for its wind energy production, and the nation accounts for 7.8% of the world’s RE.

 

 

 

 

 

4. China

Chinese_flag[1]

China has recently become the world’s largest energy consumer.  Although they are not known for clean energy policy, the are now leading the world in investment in renewable energy as well.       In 2011, they accounted for 7.6% of RE production.

 

 

 

 

 

5. Brazil

Flag_of_Brazil.svg[1]

Another burgeoning country, Brazil is building a lot of renewable energy to keep up with growing demand.  Accounting for 5% of global RE production in 2011, the country has promised to power the 2014 World Cup with solar power.

 

 

 

 

Now wait a second, does this list look funny to anyone else?  The US? Brazil?  CHINA?  When I think about clean energy, these are NOT the names that generally occur to me.  While it is worth noting that these countries produce the highest amount of renewable energy, it is important to note that they are also some of the biggest CONSUMERS of energy overall.  Three of the countries from this list are also in the top 5 Coal consumers:  China (#1), The US (#2), and Germany (#5).

Next week we will look at which countries produce the highest percentage of their electricity from renewables.

Missouri’s Renewable Energy Standard Remains Intact!

Good news Missourians!

The State Legislative session has ended, without HB44 reaching the senate floor, thus preventing it from passing into law.

You may remember from my previous post that HB 44, introduced to the state House by Rep. Bart Korman, sought to count any and all hydroelectric facilities as renewable energy in Missouri.  This was a direct attack on Missouri’s Renewable Energy Standard, which passed by an overwhelming majority in 2008.  The RES set a goal of supply 15% of Missouri’s electricity from renewable sources by 2021.  The RES was supported by many different groups because of its promise to bring new jobs and money to the state, as well as clean up our environment.

HB 44 was introduced to weaken Missouri’s committment to renewable energy, passed through the Missouri House, and made it to committee in the Senate.  Luckily, that’s where it stopped.   The same diverse group that helped pass the RES in the first place stepped up to tell the Senate that the bill would not bring in any jobs, would not help the local economy, and would not move Missouri forward.  Our Senators heard, and although they did not hold a vote on the matter, they ended the session without a decision, effectively killing the bill.

Kudos to all who signed petitions, called congress people, and made your opinion heard.

Ideal Energy Future

I’ve written a lot on this blog about different renewable energy resources, and the downsides to fossil fuels.  Obviously, I favor technology that would eliminate as much use of fossil fuels as possible.  If we aren’t using fossil fuels for our electricity and fueling our vehicles, then what ARE we using to sustain our voracious energy appetites in (my) ideal future?

Photovoltaic Solar systems for businesses and homes

As prices come down and efficiency goes up, more and more properties will install PV solar systems to generate a substantial portion of their electrical needs.  Businesses stand to gain the most, seeing as the commercial sector uses the most energy.  They can greatly reduce their overhead by installing solar, increase their profits, and boost their public image!

Wind Turbines on the grid

Wind farms are springing up across the country are starting to add a significant portion of electricity to the grid.  Wind farms will begin to produce the majority of grid tied electricity.

Storage

Now the big question:  If the solar and wind provide the majority of our electricity, what happens when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow?

This is THE question for a renewable future.  Sometimes renewables produce more electricity than needed, other times less.  People are working on all sorts of systems to store the excess electricity so that it can be used during other times when demand exceeds production.  Until this question is answered, we wont be able to completely ditch traditional power sources.

So what will these storage systems look like?  Giant battery packs? I hope not.

Batteries are expensive, have relatively short life spans, and use very harmful heavy metals.  Unless we invent a radically different battery technology (which would be great!) then I don’t think batteries will meet large-scale needs.

Some storage options are already in use, such as pumped storage hydroelectric systems like the Taum Sauk Hydroelectric Power Station in Missouri.  Which broke in 2005.  Dumping a billion gallons of water through the countryside.

Whoops.

Whoops.

One promising solution is Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES) systems.  These systems compress air using excess electricity, then release it back, spinning a generator and producing electricity during high usage periods.

More energy storage info at Slate.

Fuel

Now that takes care of our future electricity production, but what will we fuel our vehicles with?  Do I dream of a future filled with electric cars and some sort of EV planes?  Nope.  As i previously stated, batteries (required for any electric vehicles) are heavy, expensive, use polluting heavy metals, and have limited lifespans.  In addition, electric vehicles require a long charge time to ‘refuel’.

I like hydrogen cars.

Hydrogen is an extremely potent fuel, and an extremely viable fuel for our future.  Most car manufactures already have at least one all hydrogen prototype.

The benefits of hydrogen fuel is that it has a lot of energy, yet when it burns it only puts off oxygen and water!  Also, it is relatively cheap to produce, needed only electricity and water.  Sure, we will need to build a fueling infrastructure  and there are some storage issues with hydrogen fuel.  But we are building towards great new things.

Hyundai's ix35 Fuel Cell vehicle (via Popsci.com)

Hyundai’s ix35 Fuel Cell vehicle (via Popsci.com)

By the way, the navy just tested a drone that flies for 48 hours straight on hydrogen fuel.

via rt.com

via rt.com

So that’s the idea, run our homes on solar and wind power, store extra power with air, and run our vehicles on hydrogen produced by clean electricity.  Will that rid us of fossil fuels for good?  Unfortunately not.  We will still need our precious plastics after all.  But a huge step forward, on to the next wave.

An Ominous Milestone

We have recently passed a foreboding, ominous milestone:

Our atmosphere has reached the highest level of carbon in 5 million years.

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(picture and more info at the Independent)

Researchers have recorded CO2 levels of over 400 parts per million, a level not seen on Earth for 5 million years.

We all know that rising atmospheric carbon levels are leading climate change, which could cause all manor of global catastrophes, but what exactly does this benchmark mean?

It means that we have returned to a carbon level not seen on this planet since a time long before we existed as a species, when there was no ice on the Arctic Ocean, and there were jungles across Canada.

Scary thought, huh?

Renewable Energy? Why Not! pt 6

More common arguments against renewable energy and rebuttals:

6.  Wind Turbines kill birds

Ok, this one makes me laugh a little.  Yes, some birds are killed by flying into wind turbines.  They also fly into windows on buildings.  Are we going to stop using windows now?

I feel that this argument is a cheap shot at environmentalists, trying to pull their bleeding heart strings.  Surely, someone crusading to save the environment wouldn’t advocate a technology that kills animals, right?

Well, it turns out that automobiles and high voltage lines kill more birds than turbines do.  And many companies take steps to make sure birds avoid turbines, including using UV paint and burying transmission lines.  

How many animals are poisoned by pollution from coal/gas/nuclear plants?

With any new technology, we need to be careful about its implementation.  With wind energy, one of the biggest implementation concerns is placement.  Developers are now making sure that wind farms are not on migration routes for birds, making sure they have minimal impact on wildlife.  This is just one of several important factors in placement, including air turbulence, soil conditions, and noise.

More info about wind power here.