Renewable Energy

Renewable energy is defined as ‘energy from a source that is not depleted’. Main sources include biomass, hydropower, wind, biofuels, solar, heat pumps, biogas, geothermal, and marine (such as tidal power). Data by the International Energy Agency sees the share of renewable energy in global power generation at 22 per cent in 2013, with an estimated increase to 26 per cent by 2020 as a result of supportive policies by a large number of governments.

Map of renewable energy in the world
(click for larger version)

The capacity of renewable energy produced in the world has grown by over 47 per cent in the past five years, according to statistics by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). In 2015 alone the world has seen a growth of 8.3 per cent in renewable power generation, which is the highest annual growth rate ever recorded. By the end of last year, a capacity of 1,985 Gigawatts (GW) existed globally. In comparison, this is 5.3 times the amount of energy produced by all nuclear power plants.

All countries in the world have at least one abundant renewable resource, but the role of renewables in the domestic energy production varies significantly depending on the overall energy potential and demand but also depending on political and economic decisions. In the European Union, the share of renewable energy was around 15 percent in 2014, with the political target of increasing this to 20 per cent by 2020.

This map provides a global overview of the installed renewable energy capacity across main regions in 2015 as documented in IRENA data. The depiction is a circular cartogram in which the areas of each circle relates to the total power capacity in four main sources of renewable energy: Hydropower (which accounts for approximately 53 per cent of global renewable energy capacity), wind (22 per cent), solar (11 per cent), and bio (5 per cent, here including solid biomass and biogas). Not included here are geothermal and marine energy as well as liquid biofuels and pumped storage/mixed plants.

The faded grey circle behind each of these individual energy sources indicates the total capacity in each region, which is also shown in its quantity in the accompanying text labels. As this cartogram shows, the regional distribution currently puts Asia first in the global renewable energy power capacity (40.1 per cent of the world total), followed by Europe (25 per cent), North America (16.6 per cent), South America (9.1 per cent), Eurasia (including Russia, the Caucasus, and Turkey, 4.5 per cent). The remaining regions are around 1 per cent (Africa, 1.8; Oceania, 1.3; Middle East, 0.9; Central America and the Caribbean 0.6).

Most notable in this distribution is Africa’s small share (and equally low absolute capacity), indicating that despite a large potential for renewable energy in all major sources economic means to invest in such technologies plays an important role. Many countries on the African continent, not least the least connected rural regions, could benefit considerably from more concerted efforts and investments to utilise the significant resources in order to strengthen sustainable growth in the region with the most significant population increase in the forthcoming decades. Energy security and environmental sustainability will be one central element in leading the whole continent’s economic transition.

A modified version of this feature was published in the July 2016 issue of Geographical Magazine. The content on this page has been created by Benjamin Hennig. Please contact me for further details on the terms of use.

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