Wind Energy FAQs: Energy Conversion – Shifting to Renewables

How fast have countries shifted to renewable energy since 1990?

In this post we take a look at how fast the countries of the world have shifted over to renewables since 1990. By the way: we chose 1990 since it is the historical ‘base year’ for most signatory parties to the Kyoto Protocol.

There are two ways of looking at things: on a percentage and also an absolute, basis and the two are very different.

On a percentage basis: Denmark achieved the biggest shift. In 1990 only 3.3% of total generation was from renewable sources (most of which was from wind) whereas Denmark increased that to 68% in 2017. In other words, an increase of 64.7% over the 27-year period. It is interesting to see Lithuania in second place. In 1990, the year Lithuania declared independence from the Soviet Union, only 1.5% of generation was from renewable sources. At the end of 2017, that had risen to 58.2%: an increase of 56.7%. This is a remarkable achievement and one driven in large part by their desire to end dependence on Russian energy imports.
Also of note given their large populations (a combined 255 million people) are Germany, UK, Italy and Spain all of which achieved significant renewable shifts since 1990. The following chart shows the top 15 countries;

However on an absolute basis – i.e. how much renewable electricity was generated – the picture is quite a bit different as the following graph shows. China was the standout global leader. In 1990, China generated 126 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity from renewables all of which was from hydro-electric power stations. By 2017, renewables generated 1,627 TWh – an increase of 1,500 TWh over the period. This is a staggering amount and was alone equal to the increase of the next ten countries combined (i.e. the US to Turkey in the following chart). However, and as a result of China’s large population of 1.4 billion people, in percentage terms the shift was actually not so large. In 1990, renewables generated 20.4% of China’s electricity and by 2017 that had risen to 25%. By the way this compares with the U.S. which reached 16.7% at the end of 2017 – up from 10.9% in 1990.

Looking at the world as a whole: renewables in 1990 was generating 19.1% of global electricity but that had increased to 24.3% by 2017.  However there is quite a bit of variation within the group.  Hydro was generating most of the world’s renewable energy in 1990 but actually lost market share (mainly to Wind and Solar) through to 2017. Over the same time period wind and solar were the big winners gaining 4.4 and 1.7 percentage points respectively of global market share.

Although hydro lost market share over the period; when you look at things in terms of TWh of generation, hydro was the big winner registering an increase of 1,898 TWh hours between 1990 and 2017. The following chart illustrates;