Five countries that are lesser-known renewables leaders

Here we look beyond the usual suspects and consider some of the lesser-known countries making waves in renewables

Costa Rica, which made headlines this year after it went for 75 consecutive days without using fossil fuels, thanks to a prolonged stint of heavy rainfull

Over the curse of the year, a great deal has been written about China’s status as a world-leading renewables investor. Likewise, India’s ambition to boost solar capacity 20-fold by the year 2022 has earned it respect among peers. Obama’s work on climate change will soon be the stuff of history textbooks, while Germany’s guarantee that renewables will make up an 80 percent share of the market – minimum – by 2100 is music to the ears of environmentalists.

[S]ome of the smaller and altogether more impressive countries have been excluded from the debate

However, with much of the renewables discussion centred on a handful of big-ticket names, some of the smaller and altogether more impressive countries have been excluded from the debate. And while renewables’ share of the market is less than a quarter in China and a modest 15 or so percent in India, those bordering on 100 percent have received nowhere near the same degree of lip service.

Here we take a look at some of the countries that have set about establishing renewables as the single most important – if not the only – source of energy.

Renewable energy makes up an impressive 55 percent of Uruguay’s energy mix; far and ahead of the 12 percent global average. What’s more, renewables are now responsible for near on 95 percent of the country’s electricity supply as a result of the government’s 25-year energy strategy.

The situation is far cry from the turn of century, when oil accounted for 27 percent of the country’s imports and construction on a new gas pipeline from Argentina was scheduled to begin. Contrast that with Uruguay’s biggest import item today (wind turbines) and the difference between then and now is stark.

The success of clean energy in Uruguay is due in large part to an accommodating public and private sector, and a decision taken by the country’s state utility to freeze energy prices for 20 years is a comfort for investors. Inflation-adjusted electricity prices are also lower today than they were in 2008, which goes to show that renewables need not come at the expense of higher prices for consumers.

At 15 percent of the country’s annual GDP – otherwise expressed as $7bn – Uruguay’s spending on renewables, according to The Guardian, is five times the average spend in Latin America.

Costa Rica
Costa Rica made headlines earlier this year when it was revealed the Central American nation had gone 75 straight days without using fossil fuels. However, the accomplishment was down to a prolonged stint of heavy rainfall, which proceeded to send Costa Rica’s hydroelectric plants into overdrive. Sure, the news was positive for those looking to lead the transition to 100 percent renewables, though Costa Rica’s model is one that few – if any – could replicate.

Even without consistent rainfall, Costa Rica’s energy mix is such that renewables are capable of generating 90 percent of capacity. “We don’t want this be a 75-day story, we want this to be a 365-day story,” said Monica Araya, executive director of the Costa Rica-based climate change think tank Nivela, speaking with Time.

Policymakers have named 2021 as the deadline for carbon neutrality, and the country’s hydropower capacity, coupled with its geothermal, solar and wind potential should go some way towards making it so. While its likely Costa Rica will become the first carbon neutral nation by that time, the unpredictability of renewable resources, namely rainfall, could set the country back a few years should a drought hit.

Almost 80 percent of Ethiopia’s population lacks safe and reliable access to electricity, although the government’s strategy to tap indigenous energy resources together with investment in grid infrastructure should go some way towards boosting connectivity. With climate change-induced disasters forecast to increase in the coming years, diversification is the name of the game, and renewables have emerged as the go-to safeguard against the threat of flooding and drought.

Renewables have been gaining in stature not just in Ethiopia but throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and the challenges in terms of intermittency and inadequate investment are familiar to policymakers. Small-scale, distributed solar installations have been positioned as the go-to solution to the issues of climate change and connectivity.

The Eastern African Power Pool (EAPP) initiative, of which Ethiopia forms a major part, aims to expand the use of clean energy in the region, and doing so would make Ethiopia a major exporter of hydroelectricity. The country’s expertise in this area is well known, and a $1.8bn, 1.87MW Gibe III hydroelectric project, which entered into its operational phase earlier this year, is proof of its status on the regional energy stage.

Iceland is the only country in the world to receive 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, although indigenous renewable resources last year made up 85 percent of primary energy use. Generally 70 to 80 percent of the whole stems from hydropower and the rest from geothermal, yet few – if any – nations are blessed with the same natural resources.

Iceland is the only country in the world to receive 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources

For one, Iceland’s precipitation, combined with its highlands and glaciers, mean its hydroelectric potential is vast, and the country’s stations last year generated 72 percent of total capacity. Geothermal facilities make up approximately 25 percent of total production, and the country has become something of a pioneer in this area. Nonetheless, experts believe that Iceland is using only 20 to 25 percent of its hydropower capacity and as little as 20 percent of its geothermal capacity, so there will likely be further improvements to come as time wears on.

Experts also estimate that the country has saved more than $8bn over the last three decades by making the switch to renewables. Reykjavik, for example, runs entirely on renewables, and the capital stands tall as an example to others on how best to make the transition.

Albania is home to barely 2.77 million people, yet the Balkan state is making big waves in the renewables sector precisely because there is incentive enough to set the transition in motion. In years past the country has been dangerously reliant on fossil fuel imports to feed its energy fix, and homegrown renewables are seen as a fitting solution to the issues at hand.

An important law passed back in 2013 stipulated that the country must derive at least 38 percent of its electricity from non-hydro renewables by 2020, and its passage has done much to ignite a fierce enthusiasm for clean energy throughout.

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