Scaling-up Solar & Wind Power

The above graph shows the fifteen countries that generate the greatest percentage of their electricity from wind and solar power. These figures are for 2020. Wind and solar have doubled over the last five years, from generating 5% (1,083TWh) of the global electricity supply in 2015 to 10% (2,435TWh) in 2020. (For more on this see Hannah Broadbent’s article)

These increases in solar and wind power have been an impressive achievement and it is a trend that will only increase over the next few years as solar and wind technology improves, prices continue to fall and integration with existing grids improves.

A dozen or so countries already get very close to 100% of their electricity from renewable sources. Most have excellent hydro-electricity resources, like Bhutan or Paraguay, and also substantial geothermal resources that are easily exploitable, such as Iceland or New Zealand. Most countries don’t have such good hydro or geothermal opportunities, but many more countries do have massive potential to develop solar power and wind power.

It will make sense for some of the countries with the best solar and wind resources to develop very much more electricity than they need and export the surplus either in the form of hydrogen or as electricity via cable to neighbouring countries. A couple of years ago I posted a blog in which I cited Alan Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist, saying that his country should rapidly aim to develop 700% of its electricity from solar and wind power, to allow for the electrification of transport, heating, cooling, industrial processes and energy exports.

Which country will be the first to reach 100% of their total electricity demand from solar and wind, and when will they achieve that goal? And which country will reach that 700% goal first, and when?

My guess it will be a small country without a massive population or industrial base that passes both these milestones. In April I posted a blog titled ‘Floating wind comes to Ireland’ in which I described a huge wind development, which on its own will substantially increase the percentage of Ireland’s electricity supply that comes from wind. Ireland is certainly a contender, and as an independent country Scotland would be too.

It seems highly likely to me that a number of countries from the global south will leapfrog the more heavily industrialised global north. Uruguay and Chile are both already in these top fifteen countries and Chile has one of the best renewable energy resource bases in the World. Several African countries could emerge as leaders, and ones to look out for may be Morocco, Mauritania and Kenya, but it could be almost anywhere.

Sun rich countries such as Algeria, Tunisia and Libya currently produce zero percent of their electricity from the sun and wind according to Ember’s interactive map. They are all well placed geographically to generate vast solar export earnings while helping develop their own economies and also help the whole world decarbonise.

As to a time when either the 100% or the 700% milestones might be reached, all I want to say is that it could happen very much more quickly than many people think.

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