Five Nations Leading the Renewable Revolution

June 2, 2017

One by one, the nations of the world are switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. For some, it’s a matter of environmental protection; for others, it’s about seeking energy independence. Either way, the change is happening, with around a quarter of the world’s energy coming from renewable sources.

The U.S. creates a huge amount of energy from renewable sources each year, but that energy only accounts for about 13 percent of total electricity generation and 10 percent of overall energy usage. This is substantially behind other countries, many of which are on track to be 100 percent renewable in the coming decades. Here’s how five countries are cutting their dependence on non-renewables:

Brazil — Hydroelectricity

Brazil has been relying on hydropower since the 1940s, mainly due to a lack of local fossil fuel resources. Much of the dam-building program was overseen by the military dictatorship from the 1960s onwards and construction work was done with little regard for its social or environmental impact. It’s also an imperfect system, and droughts in recent years have caused issues with availability.

Despite those issues, Brazil’s hydropower infrastructure makes it one of the leading producers of renewable energy in the world, generating 382 GWh in 2015. With the drought now easing, the plan is to build a new generation of dams to help further reduce the use of fossil fuels. However, these dams will be built with greater consideration for the local environment.

Scotland — Wind power

While Scotland’s economy may be dependent on oil, the local government has been pursuing an ambitious goal: 100 percent renewable electricity by 2020, and 50 percent renewable total energy usage, including vehicle fuel consumption, by 2030. Located on the edge of the North Atlantic, Scotland is a prime location for vast wind farms, with existing wind power facilities providing over 8,000 GW per year.

Often, the problem with wind farms is location: wind farms are expensive to maintain at sea, and nearby residents object to them on land. Donald Trump fought a high-profile legal battle to prevent turbines being erected near his Aberdeen golf course up until 2015, with British courts eventually siding with the Scottish government and rejecting his complaint.

Germany — Solar power

We tend to associate solar power with sunny regions, but that’s not always the case. Germany, not famous for its sunny climate, is the world leader in solar energy, with over 35 GW of solar capacity in the country. It’s part of an infrastructure that should allow Germany to go 100 percent renewable by 2050, but how did a cold Northern European country come to dominate solar energy?

The answer is state investment. Solar power has been an unreliable source of energy in the past, with low-performance photovoltaic cells making it impractical to harvest electricity. But since the 1990s, the German government has subsidized the industry and guaranteed against losses by investors. Now the rewards are being reaped, especially with new technology such as perovskite cells providing vastly superior outputs.

The Philippines — Geothermal

Geothermal energy is often overlooked in the race for sustainable energy solutions. The upfront cost for a geothermal energy plant can be enormous — up to $7 million for a station with a capacity of one megawatt. Drilling for geothermal energy can also be as bad for the environment as fracking, potentially releasing toxins and even causing earthquakes.

However, some countries have been able to make this renewable energy source work, thanks to their unique geology. The Philippines leads the way with geothermal sources, using naturally-occurring steam from underground sources to generate approximately 18 percent of the nation’s electricity.

Denmark — Energy efficiency strategies

Many strategies focus on how we generate energy, but it’s equally important to think about how we consume energy. Part of Denmark’s strategy has been to subsidize large-scale energy efficiency measures, which cover everything from home insulation to upgrades of industrial equipment.

The perceived wisdom is that a growing economy means increased energy usage, but Denmark shows that this is not the case. Industrial output has been growing over the past decade, yet energy usage in 2014 was the lowest it had been since 1972. This spectacular management of demand, combined with investment in renewables, has turned Denmark into a net exporter of electricity.

These five countries are leading the way towards a renewable future, and they are not alone. Even China, a country once notorious for its smoke-belching coal plants, is making the switch away from fossil fuels. The nation is now running on 23 percent renewable power and plans are afoot for a multi-billion dollar sustainable energy program before 2020.

With global energy usage set to increase by over 50 percent in the next twenty years across the globe, and the looming threat of peak oil disrupting traditional fuel sources, now is the time for every nation to start looking ahead to a sustainable future.