Some days, the effort to go from burning mostly fossil fuels to using renewable energy can really seem like a slog. Things are improving, but all too often, it looks like a glacial pace (back before glaciers were melting faster, of course). Snails would get bored and fall asleep watching it. It’s just that bad.
But it’s good to notice the small victories and celebrate them, and find ways to learn from them. Today’s small victory is that there are already 10 countries in the world whose electric power generation comes from 97 to 100% renewable energy sources.
— Mark Z. Jacobson (@mzjacobson) October 25, 2021
Let’s get a quick look at the list:
Before we analyze this, let’s keep some caveats in mind. First off, this is only energy generated in each country, and not energy consumed. If power is going out to other countries or coming in from other countries, it doesn’t hurt or help this number. The year in parentheses is the year this data came from, and it’s the most recent year data was available for that country.
If you look at the top 10 list here, it’s not full of wealthy countries. Several African countries are on the list, along with countries in South America and the Caribbean. My goal in mentioning this isn’t to pick on these countries, as they’re generally not as poor as they’re often made out to be, but they’re doing a lot better at this than places like the United States, China, Russia or the UK.
If you’ve given this chart a close look, you’ve probably already noticed that most of the power comes from hydroelectric power. This isn’t surprising, because hydroelectric power has been around for a LONG time. When solar power was just a funky test project at world’s fairs and auto shows in the 1950s, many places in the world were already heavy users of hydroelectric power. It’s relatively cheap, it’s reliable, and it’s able to generate power any time of day or night and in almost any season.
When we look at the next 4 countries that are beginning to approach 100%, we can learn a bit more. Scotland, for example, is very heavy on wind, and has managed to get to 90% renewables. Kenya gets 44% of its power from geothermal. This shows us that as more countries get to the point where they’d earn an “A” on a test, we’re going to see much greater diversity in how they got there. Some countries will start to show up with large amounts of solar, tidal, or wave power.
As someone who lives in the United States, I think it’s entirely fair to paint this report as damning for us. We’ve had everything going for us, and we’re not even on the chart. We’d only earn about 20%, and get a very solid F if this was a school grade.
I think it’s totally fair to say that this reflects poorly on other “developed” countries that can’t seem to place on the list while “poor” countries aren’t emitting a bunch of greenhouse gases. Worse, the countries contributing the least, despite tens of millions in population, are the ones likely to suffer the worst under climate change.
It’s good to celebrate this small victory, but we also need this to be a kick in the pants to get our crap together!