Renewables

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Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2017) - "Renewables". Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: 'https://ourworldindata.org/renewables' [Online Resource]

I. Empirical View

I.1 Global renewable energy consumption over the long-run

The visualisation below shows the global production of renewable energy over the long-term. As we see, historical production of renewable energy has been dominated by traditional biomass - the burning of wood, forestry materials and agricultural waste biomass. Although implemented at smaller scales for thousands of years, across a range of countries, hydropower output did not feature at large production scales with pumped storage development until the 1920s.

Today, traditional biofuels remain the largest source of renewables, accounting for 60-70 percent of the total. Traditional biomass remains the dominant fuel source for cooking & heating across many low-income households. The World Bank reports that only 7 percent of the world's low-income households have access to clean fuels and technologies for cooking; the average share in Sub-Saharan Africa was 13 percent; and approximately one-third in South Asia.

Of the remaining renewable technologies, hydropower remains dominant, accounting for approximately one-quarter of renewable consumption.

I.2 Modern renewable energy consumption by source

Renewable technologies with exception to traditional biomass are often termed 'modern renewables'. These include hydropower, solar, wind, geothermal and modern biofuel production (including modern forms of waste-to-biomass conversion).

The change & mix of modern renewable consumption over the last 50 years is shown in the chart below. This is measured in terawatt-hours per year and can be viewed across a range of countries and regions.

Globally, the world produced approximately 5.9 TWh of modern renewable energy in 2016. This represents a 5 to 6-fold increase since the 1960s. Here we see that hydropower remains the dominant form of modern renewables consumption, accounting for almost 70 percent. Despite absolute growth in production, hydropower's share is, however, declining as other renewable technologies grow.

I.3 Hydropower

Global hydroelectric consumption over the long-term

Hydropower consumption by region

Hydropower consumption by country

I.4 Wind energy

Installed wind capacity

Wind energy consumption by region

Wind energy consumption by country

I.5 Solar PV energy

Installed solar PV capacity

Solar PV energy consumption by region

Solar PV consumption by country

I.6 Bioenergy

Bioenergy production by region

Biofuel production by country

I.7 Geothermal

Installed geothermal capacity

I.8 Wave & tidal

Installed marine capacity

Marine energy production by region

I.9 Renewable energy in the electricity mix

I.10 Renewable energy investment

Shifting our energy systems away from fossil fuels towards renewable technologies will require significant financial investment. But how much are we really investing in the sector, and how is this finance distributed across the world?

Investment by region

In the graph below we see global investments in renewable technologies from 2004 to 2015 (measured in billion USD per year). In 2004, the world invested 47 billion USD. By 2015, this had increased to 286 billion USD, an increase of more than 600 percent. Investment has grown across all regions, but at significantly different rates. Note that you can use the 'absolute/relative' toggle on the chart below to compare regions on relative terms. Growth has been greatest in China, increasing from 3 billion USD in 2004 to 103 billion USD by 2015 (an increase of 3400%). China is now the largest single investor in renewable technologies, investing approximately the same as the United States, Europe and India combined.

Combining Chinese and Indian investment with its neighbours, Asia & Oceania is the largest continental investor. Europe's investment has been through a significant growth-peak-reduction trend, peaking in 2011 at 123 billion USD before declining to 49 billion USD in 2015. Investment in the Middle East & Africa remains relatively small, but has shown significant growth over the last ten years (after investing only 0.5 billion USD in 2004).

Levels of absolute investment tell an important story, but are disadvantaged by the fact that they take no account of the size of investments relative to a country's economy. We might expect that the largest economies would also be the largest investors. If we want to assess which countries are making a fair 'contribution' or 'share' to investment in clean energy, it is useful to assess investment contributions as a percentage of a country's gross domestic product (GDP). We have calculated this (as a percentage of GDP) and plotted it for the largest single-country investors in the second chart below.

This tells a slightly different story. Most countries invest less than one percent of GDP in renewable technologies (with the exception of South Africa and Chile, which make an impressive contribution at 1.4 percent). When normalised to GDP, China remains one of the largest investors, at 0.9 percent. Interestingly, despite being the second largest investor in absolute terms, the United States invested only 0.1 percent of its GDP in 2015.

Indeed, when it comes to relative contributors to renewable energy, low-to-middle income transitioning economies typically invest more than high-income nations. This may be partly explained by the fact that these nations are likely to be investing a higher percentage of their GDP into energy provision and expansion overall (whereas high-income nations typically have well-established energy systems). Nonetheless, most high-income nations have set ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets in their commitments to the Paris climate agreement.1 Achieving these targets will require significant investments in low-carbon technologies.


Investment by technology

We have looked at investment trends by region, but which renewable technologies are receiving the largest investment? In the chart below we have shown global investment trends by energy source, through to 2016. Note that large hydropower is not included in these figures. Again, you can switch between the 'absolute/relative' toggle to see comparisons in each.

In 2016, solar and wind energy both received 47 percent of investment (combining to account for 94 percent of global finance). These two technologies have been taking an increasing share, especially over the last five years. In 2006, bioenergy (both in the form of biomass and liquid biofuels) took a sizable share of global investment, peaking at 36 percent. This has dwindled over the last decade, receiving less than four percent in 2016. These trends suggest that investors see solar and wind energy as the dominant renewable technologies of the future.

I.11 Renewable energy innovations

The charts below show the number of global patents filed (not granted) for renewable energy technologies. These are differentiated by technology type (e.g. solar PV, wind, geothermal), and by region. Note that figures for 2014-16 may be subject to a time lag; processing times of patent applications vary and some patents submitted over this period may not yet be recorded in statistics. These figures will be updated with time if additional patent applications are recorded.

Number of patents filed by technology

Number of patents filed in key countries

II. Correlates, Determinants & Consequences

II.1 Wind capacity vs. consumption

II.2 Solar PV capacity vs. consumption

II.3 Cost of renewable technologies

Solar PV

The cost of solar PV has fallen substantially in recent decades, as shown in the chart below. Here we see the cost of solar PV modules (in dollars per watt-peak of energy output)2 versus the global cumulative capacity of solar PV. This trend is used for calculation of a learning rate; this provides an indication of the level of cost reduction as manufacturers and producers accumulate experience through technology deployment.

The price of solar PV modules has fallen more than 100-fold since 1976. On average, the technology has had a learning rate of 22 percent; this means that the cost falls by 22 percent for every doubling in solar PV capacity (although progress has not necessarily been constant over this period).

III. Data Definitions & Quality

To maintain consistency between metrics and sources, we have attempted to normalise all energy data to units of watt-hours (Wh), or one of its SI prefixes. The table below shows the conversion of watt-hours to the range of SI prefixes used.

SI Unit Watt-hour (Wh) equivalent
Watt-hour (Wh) -
Kilowatt-hour (kWh) One thousand watt-hours (103 Wh)
Megawatt-hour (MWh) One million watt-hours (106 Wh)
Gigawatt-hour (GWh) One billion watt-hours (109 Wh)
Terrawatt-hour (TWh) One trillion watt-hours (1012 Wh)

IV. Data Sources

BP Statistical Review of World Energy
  • Data: BP publishes data on Oil, Gas Coal, Nuclear Energy, Hydroelectricity, Renewables, Primary Energy Consumption, Electricity Generation, Carbon Doixide Emissions
  • Geographical coverage: Global – by country and region
  • Time span: Annual data since 1951
  • Available at: Online at www.BP.com

The Shift Project (TSP)
  • Data: Historical Energy Consumption Statistics and Historical Energy Production Statistics
  • Geographical coverage: Global – by country and world region
  • Time span: Since 1900
  • Available at: Both datasets are online at www.tsp-data-portal.org.

IEA – International Energy Agency
  • Data: Data on electricity, oil, gas, coal and renewables. Data on CO2 emissions (also projections)
  • Geographical coverage: Global – by country
  • Time span: Last decades
  • Available at: Online at www.iea.org
  • The IEA is publishing the World Energy Outlook.
  •  You have to pay to access the IEA databases. But some data is available through Gapminder, for example Residential Energy Use (%). (for few countries since 1960, for more countries since 1971 or 1981)

Energy Information Administration
  • Data: Total and crude oil production, oil consumption, natural gas production and consumption, coal production and consumption, electricity generation and consumption, primary energy, energy intensity, CO2 emissions and imports and exports for all fuels
  • Geographical coverage: Global – by country
  • Time span: Annual data since 1980
  • Available at: Online at ww.eia.gov
  •  EIA is a US government agency.

World Development Indicators – World Bank

Eurostat