Over the past year we have been constantly bombarded by the geopolitical and economic consequences of falling oil prices, new fracking techniques or shale reserves.
Even during a period when we know as a planet we must be looking towards sustainable energy sources, there is very little positive reported on innovations in the industry or successfully implemented renewable energy plans, apart from the occasional announcement by SolarCity chairman and everyone’s favorite South African entrepreneur, Elon Musk.
Which Countries Lead The Pack In Renewable Energy?
In order to bring everyone up to date on renewables we’ve put together this fact sheet of the most promising renewable energy sources and which countries are leading the way in terms of production capacity.
Be informed that total production is very different from consumption. China and the United States may lead the pack in many of these renewable energy sources, however, their consumption remains heavily dominated by non-renewables, namely coal, oil and natural gas. This is a start and as can be seen below, the adoption of renewable energy sources is on the rise worldwide; however, in order to truly create a sustainable future, those superpowers must start implementing the technology on a much grander scale.
1. Wind Power: China, United States, Germany
Wind power is the harnessing of wind energy by wind turbines and the conversion to useful forms such as electricity or mechanical energy. We are all aware of the large-scale wind farms and have probably seen them from the highway at some point. These large scale wind farms are typically connected to the local network with smaller turbines used to provide electricity to more isolated areas. Wind farms installed on agricultural land or grazing areas, have one of the lowest environmental impacts of all energy sources.
With a capacity of 114,763 Megawatts (MW) in 2014, China has by far the world’s biggest wind power sector, accounting for 31% of the global total. Wind energy has grown spectacularly in recent years – China installed 45% of all new capacity in 2014. The country’s large land mass and long coastline mean China has excellent wind power potential. To gain a sense of perspective after China comes the United States and Germany, who produced 65,879 MW and 39,165 MW respectively.
Image Source: Taz.de
2. Tidal Power: South Korea, China, United Kingdom
Tidal energy can be harnessed in two ways, by tidal stream generators or by barrage generation. Tidal generators are generally the preferred method as it causes less impact on locally established ecosystems. Tidal stream generators work similarly to wind turbines, they’re just underwater and driven by the swiftly moving water. Tide patterns are more predictable than wind patterns and solar and so it is surprising that the technology has not been adopted worldwide and is in greater use, however, it does show great promise for the future.
There have been sporadic tidal power developments throughout the world from the UK to Australia, the USA to South Korea and China, however, the method has not yet taken off as other renewable forms have. South Korea completed the Sihwa Lake Tidal Power Plant in 2011, which with a 254 megawatts (MW) capacity is the largest tidal power installation in the world. South Korea are seemingly ready to adopt the renewable source with a contract for an 812 MW tidal barrage near Ganghwa Island signed by Daewoo. Completion is expected in 2015.
Image Source: Siemmens
3. Wave Power: South Korea, Australia
Wave power is the harnessing of the energy of surface ocean waves. Once captured, the energy can be used for electricity generation, water desalination, or the pumping of water (into reservoirs for example).
Wave energy can be difficult to harness because of the unpredictability of the wave direction, however, wave farms do exist in Europe and use floating Pelamis Wave Energy converters. They work by using a floating buoyed device which when a wave passes through it is forced into a snaking motion, due to the waves peak and troughs. The world’s first commercial wave farm is based in Portugal, at the Aguçadora Wave Park, which consists of three 750 kilowatt Pelamis devices.
The Aguçadoura Wave Farm located 3 miles offshore north of Porto, Portugal, was the world’s first wave farm, completed in 2008. It has a total installed capacity of 2.25 MW. The Australian government granted AU $66.46 million to a wave farm development near Portland, Victoria, which would have a total installed capacity of 19 MW.
Similarly to tidal power, wave power has seen sporadic investments and the completion of “wave farms” but with no country outright driving the renewable forward. Once again South Korea appears near the top of the list of wave power producing countries, due to its exposed peninsula.
Image Source Wiki
4. Solar Power: Germany, China, Italy
Solar power harnesses the suns direct energy to produce electricity. This is by far the most advanced of our renewable energy efforts with new technologies developing at a rapid rate. Photovoltaic (PV) solar cells are becoming more efficient, lightweight, flexible and cheaper to manufacture.
Germany is by far the world leader when it comes to solar energy production. Despite a slowdown in 2013, Germany is expected to remain the top solar market in Europe for the coming years, and still boasts a quarter of the world’s installed PV capacity (26%), compared to the 13% held by each of the next two countries China and Italy. In 2010 Germany had a solar energy production of 9.8 gigawatts (GW), taking the top spot. In 2014 it has more than tripled its output to 35.5 GW.
Image Source: Kohanet
5. Hydroelectricity: China, Brazil
Hydroelectricity is the production of power through use of the gravitational force of falling or flowing water. It is the most widely used form of renewable energy. There is no direct waste once a hydroelectric complex has been constructed. Small scale hydro power systems can be installed in small rivers or streams with little or no environmental effect or disruption to fish migration. This has become a popular alternative energy source, especially in remote areas where other power sources are not viable.
The majority of small-scale hydro power systems make use of water wheels to generate energy, skipping the need for a dam or major water diversion. Many hydroelectric projects are plugged into the national grid, however, some are created to serve specific industrial enterprises. Dedicated hydroelectric projects are often built to provide the substantial amounts of electricity needed for aluminium electrolytic plants, for example.
China is the world’s largest producer of hydroelectric power and this can be attributed to the Three Gorges Dam, built on the Yangtze river, with an installed capacity of 20,300 MW, making the dam the world’s largest power plant by installed capacity. The annual production of electricity in China is estimated at 3,450 billion kwh and out of this 22% is contributed by the hydropower. Canada is second in our list and hydroelectricity contributes around 60% to the annual production of electricity, which is 620 billion kwh.
Image Source: Nevworldwonders
6. Geothermal Power: United States, The Philippines
Geothermal energy is the extraction of energy from the earth through natural processes. This can be performed on the individual scale to provide heat for a residential unit, or on a massive industrial scale for energy production through a geothermal power plant.
Geothermal power is cost effective, reliable and environmentally friendly, but has previously been geographically limited to areas near tectonic plate boundaries. Geothermal power requires no fuel, however, capital costs tend to be high, mainly associated with the initial drilling into the ground.
As of 2015, worldwide geothermal power capacity amounts to 12.8 GW, of which 28 percent or 3,548 megawatts are installed in the United States. However this accounts for only 0.3% of US energy production. The largest group of geothermal power plants in the world is located at The Geysers, a geothermal field in California.
Based on current geologic knowledge and technology, the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) estimates that only 6.5 percent of total global potential has been tapped so far. Countries generating more than 15 percent of their electricity from geothermal sources include El Salvador, Kenya, the Philippines, Iceland and Costa Rica.
Image Source: Imgkid.com
7. Biomass: Brazil, United States
Biomass is the harnessing of dead biological matter that can be used as fuel or for industrial production. In this context biomass refers to plants or produce such as trash, dead trees and branches, wood chips and even plant or animal matter. Biomass can also include biodegradable wastes that can be burnt as fuel.
Biomass reduces environmental pollution as it uses organic garbage. In Brazil more than 1 million people in the country works in the production of Biomass, and this energy represents 27% of Brazil’s energetic matrix, more than any other country in the world. Biomass is an essential energy form for developing nations, for its potential as a low-cost, indigenous supply of power and environmental benefits.