As humanity faces anthropogenic global warming, the race to find alternative energy sources to fuel the growing needs of the world’s economy has intensified.
Let’s not kid ourselves, the days of fossil fuels are far from numbered - a lion’s share of the planet’s electricity production is still based on burning ancient plant and animal matter.
According to Renewables 2015 Global Status Report, by the end of 2014 only 23.7% of the world’s electricity production was based on renewables, and that was largely hydropower, known for its carbon cleanliness and efficiency, but also infamous for flooding pristine landscapes in the name of electricity production.
The largest producer of renewable electricity in the world is also the biggest polluter - China. United States come next in terms of output, but the total share of renewable electricity consumption in both of these countries is still rather modest.
However, there are some places in the world that - either through sheer geographical luck or policymaking willpower - are already using mostly clean electricity. Here’s a handy list, in case you are considering a move to a largely carbon-neutral area.
97.1% renewable electricity in 2014
Often mentioned - if somewhat hyperbolically - as the only country in the world running on 100% clean energy, Iceland’s not-so-secret weapon is geothermal power. It’s no wonder that the tiny volcano-ridden nation would tap into the heat of the Earth for their electricity needs, complementing it with hydroelectric stations harnessing the energy of glaciers and mountain streams.
109.6% renewable electricity in 2014
Despite being a major producer and exporter of oil, Norway itself runs largely on renewables. According to Eurostat, Norway’s share of renewable energy in electricity went over 100% in 2014, and in fact they rank as 9th in the world for renewable electricity generation. Top three sources are the usual suspects - hydropower, geothermal, and wind.
99% renewable electricity in 2015
The tiny Central American nation, like other record-holders on this list, has a geographical advantage in the shape of countless rivers and high rates of rainfall. Over 80% of the electricity they use comes from hydroelectric stations, with the rest supplemented by geothermal and a small amount of wind and solar.
99.8% renewable electricity in 2015
Even though the US is the second largest producer of carbon emissions on the planet, one of the states is having none of it (except for cars, that is). After the 2014 closure of their own nuclear plant, the New England state of Vermont uses 99.8% renewable electricity, largely imported from its neighbouring Quebec, which hosts the fourth largest hydroelectric power producer in the world.
100% renewable electricity in late 2015
As the name suggests, it’s the largest state in Austria, with 1.65 million residents - and late last year it made headlines for reaching a point where it runs entirely on clean energy. As with most of these record-holders, most of that electricity is hydropower at 63%, however wind and biomass were also significant contributors at 36% and 9% respectively.
57.7% renewable electricity in 2015
Anyone who’s stood on a Scottish crag and shivered on a cold July day will not be surprised that Scotland is a wind farm powerhouse. According to a report by WWF Scotland, in 2015 they generated enough electricity from wind to power the equivalent of 97% Scottish households, but some of that gets exported to other parts of the UK. Renewables made up over half of total electricity consumption in Scotland last year, and the Scottish government does have an ambitious plan to go entirely renewable by 2020.
Special mention: Orkney Islands
110% renewable electricity in 2015
Okay, so technically it’s still part of Scotland, but it deserves a special mention. The Orkney are that scattered collection of islands off the north-eastern coast of Scotland, and even though they only house less than 22,000 people, all of them use renewable electricity in the form of wind and tidal power - producing more than they can actually consume. However, it does sound like a terribly windy place.