Who is leading in renewable energy? | CNBC Explains

All around the world,
governments are building more solar parks, wind farms and hydroelectric
power plants to generate power. As global warming and climate change
continue to take centre stage, which countries are leading in generating
power through renewable energy? And what are the challenges
preventing mass adoption? In 2018, more than a quarter of the world’s
energy was generated from renewable sources, thanks to costs coming down and
more green policies taking off. Renewable energy can
come from many sources.

The most common are solar, wind,
geothermal, biomass and hydropower. In sunny Singapore, solar power
would seem like the natural fit. So what’s preventing
its mass adoption? Well, it’s not that
straightforward. For one, the unpredictable cloud
cover over the tiny city-state. And not all countries have the same
potential to harness clean energy or the right environment for
certain energy infrastructure. Let's take a look at who’s
leading the energy revolution. China, the United States, Brazil, India
and Germany have the biggest renewable power capacity worldwide,
in no small part due to their size. Remove hydropower from the mix and
Germany moves up to number three and Japan takes the
number five spot.

But it’s no coincidence that these six countries also
make the list of the world’s biggest energy consumers, meaning that even if they were producing
renewable energy at capacity, it still makes up a small proportion
of their overall energy mix. Divide renewable power capacity by the
number of people living in the country, and you get a very
different mix of countries. Iceland is the world leader,
followed by Denmark. Germany and Sweden are
tied in the third spot.

And Finland rounds
out the top five. But the most telling metric is likely the role of
renewables in a country’s overall energy mix. Nordic and Latin American countries
have a good showing on this list. More than 75% of Norway, New Zealand, Brazil and
Colombia’s energy production comes from renewables. Venezuela, Canada, Sweden and
Portugal also make a good showing.

But for big oil producing nations like Saudi
Arabia, Kuwait, the U.A.E and Algeria, renewables are unsurprisingly
near non-existent. But again, not all countries have
equal geographies and policies. Think of renewable energy as something bespoke,
with each country harnessing the environment according to its
unique surroundings. Norway has 1,660 hydropower plants and
more than 1,000 storage reservoirs. It is possible for Norway to depend on hydropower
because of the country’s long coastlines, steep valleys and high
levels of running water. In neighbouring Sweden, where forests
make up 63% of its land mass, bioenergy is increasingly being used for
heating, as well as for electricity production.

11% of its electricity is also derived
from around 3,600 wind turbines. Likewise in Brazil, which has rivers and huge swathes
of the Amazon rainforest within its borders. Clean energy, including hydropower, accounted
for 42% of its electricity production in 2017. Ditto for Colombia and Venezuela,
countries known for hydroelectricity. One famous cautionary tales about over-reliance on
one form of renewable energy comes from Venezuela, which depends heavily on the Guri dam for
about 60% of the country’s electrical needs. In 2010 and 2016, droughts caused the dam’s water to
fall so low, the government had to declare emergencies. So where does the energy
race go from here? Well, an increasing number of countries
are recognizing the urgent need to tackle, or slow down
climate change. Investing in renewable energy
is one of the major steps. From the Kyoto Protocol to the Paris Agreement,
an increasing number of signatories are joining international environmental agreements
to lower emissions of greenhouse gases.

The Paris Agreement brought together 195
nations to tackle climate change in 2015, though it has had a
few setbacks since. The United States will withdraw from the Paris
Climate Accord. So we’re getting out. But we will start to negotiate, and we will
see if we can make a deal that’s fair. Other targets include the UN Sustainable
Development Goal for Affordable and Clean Energy, which includes increasing the share of renewable
energy in the global energy mix by 2030. In the meantime, countries have
set unilateral targets as well. More than 60 countries are planning to bring
their carbon footprint to zero by 2050, with the European Union aiming to
become the first climate neutral economy. But most renewable energy sources are still
subject to unpredictable forces of nature. Imagine a drought rendering a dam useless
and taking out a country’s sole electricity supply. Or intermittent energy from wind
or solar sources.

What then? That’s where innovation and
new technologies kick in. Remember when billionaire Elon Musk tweeted
that he would install a battery storage system in South Australia within
100 days, or deliver it for free? The Tesla battery system now holds the title
for the largest lithium-ion battery in the world. It can currently store 129
megawatt-hours of energy from wind turbines by renewable
power company Neoen. This is enough to meet the
needs of 30,000 homes. Now, Neoen has plans to upgrade its
capacity by 50% to 150 megawatts. More localised microgrid systems are
already powering remote locations, like these far-flung islands in Southeast
Asia, and providing reliable energy storage. But to power the world with renewable energy,
we’re going to need much more storage than that. 3D printing is seen as a way to reduce the
cost of producing solar panels or wind turbines. Ten years ago, the cost of a solar panel installation
in the United States was $8.50 per watt.

It’s now $2.99 per watt.
That’s a 65% decrease. Harvesting kinetic energy is seen as another
option, with some already pioneering technology that will transform your
footsteps into electricity. While the world is shifting to renewable energy,
economic growth and a growing population mean global energy demand
is still increasing. Not only do renewables have to meet the energy
demands of today, but also tomorrow. Hey guys, thanks for watching. Subscribe if you haven't already and comment if
you have any thoughts on renewable energy..

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