Countries around the world are resolutely driving forward the energy revolution. Whether China, the USA, Japan or Germany – around the globe, people are investing in solar and wind energy plants.
Plenty of sun and even more wind – the conditions in Germany in February and March were ideal for generating “green” electricity. The result: For the first time, more than half of Germany’s electricity demand was met by renewable energies over a longer period. What’s above average in Germany is par for the course for El Hierro. In July 2019, the small Canary Island covered 100% of its electricity demand from renewable energy sources, with the annual average at 54%.
On the road to 100 percent
El Hierro has achieved this with an ingenious system of generation and storage that can serve as a model for others. It’s true that the abundant wind power in itself is sufficient to cover the electricity needs of the 11,000 islanders. But unfortunately, the wind does not always blow. So the small island combined weather-dependent wind power with a pumped-storage power plant. This consists of two storage lakes – one located on the mountain ridge, the other down in the valley. If there is not enough wind to generate the required electricity, the water rushes from top to bottom, driving turbines that generate the electricity. Conversely, if on some days there is surplus wind energy that is not needed by the electricity grid, the water is simply pumped back up again. As a result, a small island remote from the rest of the world is well on its way to transforming its energy system. Countries like Albania, Paraguay or Iceland have already managed to achieve their own transformations: they cover 100% of their energy demand with renewables. However, this is mainly made possible by the presence of a natural resource: hydropower. Almost all the energy for these three countries comes from hydropower plants.
Solar energy is on the rise worldwide: According to IRENA's “Renewable Capacity Statistics” report published on 6 April 2020, photovoltaic plants with a total capacity of 586.4 gigawatts had been installed by the end of 2019. This means that last year the global photovoltaic market grew by almost 100 gigawatts. After China, leaders in the field of solar energy include the USA, Japan and Germany. The expansion of wind energy is also progressing around the world. In 2019 alone, it increased by 19% or 60.5 gigawatts compared to 2018. Despite the fact that 2018 itself was already the strongest growth year since records began.
China and the United States are also world leaders in the expansion of wind turbines. But it’s not just large countries that have ambitious goals. The best example is the relatively small Denmark. The Scandinavian country is planning an offshore wind farm with a capacity of up to 10 gigawatts. The facility is designed to supply enough electricity for around 10 million households and will be able to cover the country’s entire demand. This would allow Denmark to join the list of countries that have successfully transformed their energy system – and without any hydropower at all. The wind farm is scheduled to go into operation by 2030 at the latest.
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China takes the lead
There are only a few countries that can build from this. Which is why in 2019 solar and wind energy clearly dominated worldwide – accounting for 90% of newly added renewable generation capacity. The clear leader in capacity expansion is Asia: According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), more than half of the world’s new plants in 2019 were installed in Asia. China in particular is driving forward the expansion of renewable energy plants, replacing Europe and the USA in their role as pioneers. At 634.2 TWh, the country is by far the largest producer of energy from wind, solar and geothermal sources. “China is taking on this leading role because it recognises the enormous market opportunities and the economic advantages,” says energy economist Prof. Claudia Kemfert from the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW).