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Image: Ronald Vriesema

The countries with more than 80% renewables… Not what you expected

A fifth of global energy generation came from renewables in 2012 according to the International Energy Agency.  But which countries use the highest proportion of renewables in their energy mix?  Perhaps it is the hi-tech Germans?  Or maybe it is the fast-expanding Chinese?

Not even close!  Only two European countries feature among those generating 80 percent or more of their energy from renewables.  Iceland – with its access to volcanic geothermal energy – and Norway – through wide use of hydroelectric dams – enjoy particular advantages not shared by the rest of Europe.

Once you stop to think about it, it should be obvious that the majority of countries that generate more than 80 percent of electricity from renewables are going to be among the poorest in the world – those whose total energy use is small and often intermittent.  This is what Tariq Khokhar from the World Bank discovered when he mapped out the IEA data for 2011/12:

“I was surprised by the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa such as Zambia where hydropower is a big part of the energy generation mix.”

In fact, the data contain both a threat and a degree of hope:  A threat, because population growth and development in the poorest regions of the planet are driving demand for energy; a process that could result in massive additional use of fossil fuels.  Hope, because the adoption of renewables may be an example of ‘combined and uneven development’; in which the poorest are able to leapfrog the most developed countries by deploying the most up-to-date (renewable) technologies.

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