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.
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 saw a growth of 8.3 per cent in renewable power generation, the highest annual growth rate ever recorded. By the end of last year, a capacity of 1,985GW existed globally. 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 domestic energy production varies significantly depending not only on the overall energy potential and demand but also on political and economic decisions made by different governments. In the European Union, the share of renewable energy was around 15 per cent in 2014, with a political target of increasing this to 20 per cent by 2020.
“Regional distribution currently puts Asia first in global renewable energy power capacity, followed by Europe, North America, South America, and Eurasia”
The above 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 (five per cent, here including solid biomass and biogas).
Regional distribution currently puts Asia first in 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), and Eurasia (including Russia, the Caucasus, and Turkey, 4.5 per cent). The remaining regions are around one per cent each.
Most notable in this distribution is Africa’s small share. 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 continent could benefit from more concerted investments to utilise their resources in order to strengthen sustainable growth in a region with potentially 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.
This was published in the July 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.