One of the more popular posts on this blog over the past few years has been the one on countries with 100% renewable energy. It’s a list that surprises people, as there are plenty of unexpected countries on there. Here’s a map that makes the same point. It shows the countries that generate over 80% of their electricity from renewable sources.
With the exception of Norway, Iceland and Albania, this is a list of countries from the Global South. Africa is particularly well represented. The reason for this is that we’re not talking about solar and wind power here. Almost all the countries with very high rates of renewable energy have large scale hydro power.
This is often a sign of energy poverty rather than renewable energy success. In some places, such as Mozambique or the Congo, large dams were built decades ago and there has been little investment in energy since. The stats only look positive because so few people have access to electricity. As energy access widens, the percentage from renewable energy could fall. Ghana, for example, would have made the list in the 90s. It has added power stations, more people have been connected, and the percentage of renewable energy has fallen to 67%.
Hydro power is also controversial. Rivers are moved, people are displaced, and the environmental impact can be huge. But then if the alternative is fossil fuels, then hydro may be the lesser of two evils. Every situation is unique, so it’s not really possible to be for or against it on principle. As other forms of renewable energy become more affordable, the attractiveness of large scale dams may be waning anyway.
I look forward to this map changing over the coming years, as more countries are coloured in. I expect a couple more developed countries to cross the 80% threshold before 2020. I also hope that those African nations will keep hold of their places by supplementing their dams with solar and wind power rather than coal and gas.