The majority of new wind generating capacity in Denmark has been added in the past 16 years. Despite the dominance of conservative parties in Denmark during the decade of the 2000s, Danish commitment to wind energy and biomass has not faltered.
Italy is the world’s tenth-largest industrial economy with 60 million inhabitants. It consumes 285 TWh of electricity annually — as much as California.
In 1980, hydro provided as much as a quarter of Italy’s electricity generation. By 2012, hydro’s portion of generation had dropped to 15 percent of supply, as consumption and generation continued to grow with limited expansion of new dams.
Italy has been producing as much as 2 percent of its generation from geothermal since the 1960s and 1970s.
However, the penetration from all renewables have been declining steadily from the 1980s until the mid-2000s when more wind, biomass, and especially solar photovoltaics (solar PV) began to be added to the system.
Wind and biomass have been growing steadily since the beginning of the 2000s. In 2012, wind contributed nearly 5 percent of supply, while biomass provided 4 percent.
But it’s been the meteoric increase in the amount of solar PV that has surprised energy analysts. As late as 2007, the generation from solar PV has rocketed from nothing to more than 6 percent in 2012, exceeding the percentage of supply from wind, biomass, and geothermal.
All together, new renewables provided more than 17 percent of total generation.
As an industrial power, Spain’s population, land area, domestic product, and climate are roughly comparable to those of California. The country of 47 million people has been on a trajectory of ever-greater penetration from non-hydro renewables since the mid-1990s.
Prior to the 1990s, hydro was the sole source of renewable energy in Spain’s electricity mix. As late as 1996, hydro provided nearly one quarter of Spain’s generation. As in nearby Portugal, annual generation from hydro varies dramatically from wet to dry years.
Since 2002, the penetration of non-hydro renewables in supply have increased from only 2 percent to 22 percent in 2012.
The bulk of generation from new renewables, as in Portugal, is from wind energy. In 2011, wind energy contributed more than 15 percent of supply; solar more than 3 percent; and biomass nearly 2 percent.
Germany has justifiably received the most of the attention of energy analysts and critics alike. The world’s fifth-largest industrial economy with a population of 80 million, Germany generates 575 TWh of electricity per year.
And, surprisingly, Germany is not a major producer of hydroelectricity. Germany generates only 20 TWh per year from hydro in contrast to Norway’s 120 TWh per year.
Thus, all the growth in the penetration of renewables in Germany’s supply is from non-hydro resources, such as wind, solar, biogas, and biomass.
Germany now generates more renewable energy than Norway.
In 2011, Germany generated 19 percent — or nearly one-fifth — of its supply with renewables. Hydro provided only 3 percent of generation; wind, 8 percent; biomass, 8 percent; and solar, 3 percent.
(Note: Germany provides more up-to-date data than EIA, however, it is not in the same format as that recorded by EIA; thus, it is not reflected here. The EIA data is also discontinuous because of German reunification in 1989.)
In the three decades since 1980, the contribution from renewables in France has steadily declined as its electricity consumption has more than doubled.
In 1980, hydro accounted for 27 percent of supply. By the late 2000s, hydro’s contribution to the French electricity supply had fallen to 10-12 percent.
The increase in renewable penetration since 2005 has been solely due to the addition of wind and a modest amount of solar PV and biomass.
In the 1970s, France made a political commitment to develop nuclear energy and undertook a massive construction program. As the reactors came on line, France launched what now seem foolhardy programs to encourage consumption of electricity. These consumption patterns are now integrated into France’s building stock and are playing havoc with the country’s energy policy.
Unlike the development of renewables in Denmark and Germany, France’s approach can best be characterized as schizophrenic. It has made commitments to its European Union (EU) partners to develop a certain percentage of its supply with renewables by 2020. Yet, France’s ruling elite is not yet ready to give up dreams of further nuclear expansion.
At the current pace, France will not meet its EU renewables obligation — and doesn’t seem too concerned about it either.
While the current government came to power with a call for reducing France’s reliance on nuclear power, there has been no concerted effort to do so.
In 2012, the penetration of wind in French supply was only about 3%, that from solar PV, less than 1 percent. Biomass contributed 1 percent of total generation.
The U.S. generated a higher percentage of electricity with renewables in 1983, 14.1 percent, than it has anytime since in the past 30 years.
In 2012, renewables provided 12.7 percent of total generation. Existing large hydro accounted for three-quarters of total renewables generation, wind contributed the bulk of the remainder.
In 2011, wind generated nearly 4 percent of supply in the U.S.
The total penetration of renewables in 2011, despite news reports about the growth of wind and solar in absolute terms, only reached the same level of renewables in supply as was first achieved in 1980!
Though total renewable generation has increased to more than 500 TWh in 2012 from less than 300 TWh in 1980, total generation has nearly doubled since then, increasing from 2,300 TWh to 4,100 TWh last year. Thus, until the growth of wind energy in 2009, the percentage of renewables in supply had been steadily decreasing since 1983.
Among European countries, Great Britain is clearly the laggard. The total renewable contribution to its supply is less than 10 percent. Even France, with its development of hydro resources in the French Alps, generates a higher percentage of its supply, 16 percent, with renewables than Great Britain.
Britain’s poor track record is not for lack of resources. All analysts agree that while Britain may not be as sunny as Spain or Italy, it does have the best wind resource in Europe — far better than that in Germany, and better even than that in Denmark.
Nor is it for lack of experience or technology. Britain has been developing wind energy much longer than France.
Britain’s first significant foray into renewable energy was the introduction of the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO) in 1990. Designed originally as a way to fund “clean”, that is non-fossil fuel-fired nuclear power, the Thatcher government was shocked to learn that sloppy legislative language opened the door to other “clean” technologies, such as wind and hydro.
This was the same time period when Germany introduced its feed-in law — the Stromeinspeisungsgesetz. In contrast to Germany’s consistent policy support for renewables through its feed-in tariff mechanism, Britain stumbled badly with its quota model and has never recovered. Today, Britain has few renewables in comparison to other European countries, and an aging nuclear fleet as well.
In 2011, Britain generated nearly 5 percent of its supply with wind, and about 4 percent of its supply with biomass. Hydro contributed less than 2 percent of total generation.
Even the U.S. generates a higher percentage of its electricity with renewables than Britain does.
Some countries generate 100 percent of their electricity with renewable energy today. Norway produces nearly all its electricity with hydro. Iceland generates three-quarters of its electricity with hydro and one-quarter with geothermal.
Both Denmark and Portugal produce nearly one-half their electricity with renewable energy. Portugal generates one-fifth of its electricity with wind energy alone, while Denmark produces nearly one-third of its electricity with wind.
Italy and Spain both generate about one-third of their electricity with renewables. Italy produces 17 percent of its electricity, or half of its total renewable generation from non-hydro resources. Non-hydro resources, such as wind, solar, and biomass, contributes two-thirds of Spain’s total renewable generation.
Germany provides about one-quarter of their generation from renewables. Nearly one-fifth of Germany’s electricity is produced by non-hydro resources.
New, or non-hydro resources provide less than 5 percent of generation in France and the U.S. The penetration of renewable generation in the US has yet to reach levels seen thirty years ago. The total renewable penetration in France remains substantially less than that seen three decades ago.
Great Britain generates one-tenth of its electricity with renewables, 90 percent of that from non-hydro resources, mostly wind.
Clearly, countries can, when they choose to do so, generate a very high percentage — if not 100 percent — of their electricity with renewables. The challenge has never been technical. The problem has always been the political desire for a high percentage of renewable energy in a nation's generating mix — and the consistent implementation of policies that work.