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Renewable energy

Renewable energy includes energy derived from natural processes that do not involve the consumption of exhaustible resources such as fossil fuels and uranium
Lightsource solar farm, on the Queen Elizabeth II reservoir, just outside London

Renewables in this review

Hydroelectricity, wind and wave power, solar and geothermal energy and combustible renewables and renewable waste (landfill gas, waste incineration, solid biomass and liquid biofuels) are the constituents of renewable energy.


The definition of Primary Energy in the Statistical Review confines itself to renewable fuels (commercial renewables) used for power generation or transport fuels. It excludes renewable sources of heat. Consumption of hydroelectricity has been reported in the Statistical Review for many years, and biofuels have been included in oil consumption. The Review includes additional tables on the consumption of renewable sources of electricity other than hydroelectricity and on the production of biofuels.


Electricity generation from renewables

The coverage and quality of data relating to non-hydro renewable power is improving steadily, especially where countries have adopted policy targets for renewables. It is now possible to provide a reasonable estimate for total power generated from renewable sources. This is based as far as possible on primary national sources, supplemented as necessary by data from secondary sources, such as Eurostat, the US Energy Information Administration, and the International Energy Agency. The Statistical Review database stretches back to 1965, but any data before 1990 should be treated with caution due to major breaks in data series. (Fortunately the numbers before 1990 are generally very small, and too small to affect primary energy aggregates).


The Statistical Review collects data on power generated in TWh, and converts this to Mtoe on the same basis as hydroelectricity and nuclear power (i.e. on the basis of thermal equivalency assuming 38% conversion efficiency in a modern thermal power station).


Despite high growth rates, renewable energy still represents only a small fraction of today’s global energy consumption. Renewable electricity generation (excluding hydro), is estimated to account for 8.4% of global electricity generation. Renewables do, however, play a significant role in the growth of electricity, contributing almost 50% of the growth in global power generation in 2017.


At the individual country level these sources are already playing an important role in some countries. Denmark leads, with 68% of power coming from renewables. Among the larger EU economies, the renewables share in power is 30% in Germany, 28% in the UK, 25% in Spain, and 23% in Italy.


The rapid growth of renewable power generation continued in 2017, with an increase of 17%. In volume terms, the largest increase in 2016 was in China, followed by the US; with Germany, Japan, and India making up the rest of the top five.


The Statistical Review provides further information in the form of consumption tables for solar, wind, and other renewables, and capacity tables for wind, solar and geothermal power.


Renewable power

Renewable power consumption grew by 17% in 2017, providing 8% of the world’s electricity.


The rapid growth of non-hydro renewable power generation continued in 2017. Global growth was 17%, the 14th successive year of double-digit growth. Renewables accounted for nearly50% of the growth in global power generation in 2017, and contributed 27% of world primary energy growth.


The OECD remains the main source of renewable power generation (63% of world total in 2017), but non-OECD growth has accelerated sharply and has exceeded OECD growth rate in percentage terms every year for the last 12 years.


The share of renewable power in global power generation reached nearly 8.4% in 2017, almost doubling in five years from 4.6% in 2012. Renewables accounted for 12% of OECD power generation in 2017, compared to 6% in the non-OECD. While the aggregate shares remain low, for some individual countries renewables now contribute a significant share of power. Countries where renewables contribute more than 20% of the power generated include: Germany, Spain, UK, Italy, Portugal, Denmark, Finland, Ireland and New Zealand.

Other renewables – consumption by region    
Other renewables – consumption by region
Other renewables – share of power generation by region
Other renewables – share of power generation by region

Biofuels production

World biofuels production increased by 3.5% in 2017, well below the 10-year average of 11.4%, but the fastest for three years.


The US provided the largest increment (950 thousand tonnes of oil equivalent, or ktoe). By fuel type, global ethanol production grew by 3.3%, contributing over 60% to total biofuels growth. Biodiesel production rose by 4% driven mainly by growth in Argentina, Brazil and Spain.

World biofuels production by region (million tonnes oil equivalent)
World biofuels production by region (million tonnes oil equivalent)
World biofuels production by type (million tonnes oil equivalent)
World biofuels production by type (million tonnes oil equivalent)
Includes data from F.O. Lichts; Strategie grains; US Energy Information Administration (March 2018).



Geothermal power

Geothermal power generation is a well-established and relatively mature form of commercial renewable energy. One of its important characteristics is a high load factor, which means that each MW of capacity produces significantly more electricity during a year than a MW of wind or solar capacity.


Geothermal capacity grew by 4.3% (600 MW) in 2017, to reach 14.3 GW. The largest additions to capacity were in Turkey (243 MW) and Indonesia (220 MW). The US has the largest geothermal capacity with 3.7 GW (26% of the world total), followed by the Philippines (1.9 GW), Indonesia (1.9 GW) and New Zealand (1 GW).


Geothermal power runs at a much higher load factor than wind or solar (its energy source is continuous rather than intermittent), so geothermal produces significantly more electricity per MW of capacity. However the geological conditions required for geothermal power mean that development has been concentrated in a relatively small number of countries.


Geothermal power generation grew by 3.1% in 2017. Overall the geothermal share of global power generation remains very small (0.3%), but in certain countries it plays a significant role, e.g. Kenya (over 40% of power), Iceland (over 25%), and New Zealand (18%).


Solar energy

Solar is scaling up rapidly, with capacity nearly quadrupling over the past five years.


New installations totaling more than 97 GW in 2017 took global solar PV power generating capacity to nearly 400 GW by year-end, a 32% increase versus the end of 2016. Capacity has nearly quadrupled in the past five years.


The largest increments in 2017 were recorded in China (53 GW) and the US (11 GW), together accounting for two-thirds of the growth in global solar capacity. Japan provided the third largest addition (7 GW). China also leads in terms of cumulative installed capacity (130 GW), with one-third of the global total. The US (51 GW) and Japan (49 GW) are in second and third with Germany (42 GW) now in fourth.


Solar power generation enjoyed another year of very rapid growth in 2015, with a 35% increase. Its overall share of global power generation remains low (1.7%), but that share has more doubled in just three years. Solar is starting to have a noticeable impact in terms of sources of power generation growth, contributing nearly 20% of the growth of global power in 2017.

Solar PV generation capacity (gigawatts, cumulative installed capacity)
Solar PV generation capacity (gigawatts, cumulative installed capacity)

Wind energy

Wind power continues to grow strongly, providing 4.4% of global power


Wind power generating capacity grew by 10% in 2017, with capacity increasing by 47 GW to reach 515 GW by the end of 2017.


China leads the world in terms of installed wind capacity (164 GW), and in 2017 China recorded the largest addition of new wind capacity (15 GW), followed by the US (6 GW), Germany (6 GW), India (4 GW) and UK (4 GW).


Wind power generation grew by more than 17% in 2017 to reach 1120 TWh, or 4.4% of total world electricity generation. That is more than the total power generation of Russia, the world’s fourth largest power generator. China was the largest wind power producer last year, growing by 21% and contributing 30% of global growth in wind power.


Wind has become an important contributor to European electricity generation. In Denmark wind power provided more than 48% of power generation in 2017: and wind power now provides 15% or more of power generated in Ireland, Lithuania, Germany, Portugal, and Spain. Wind has a much smaller share in the US, where it contributed just under 6% of power generation in 2017; and in China, where wind provided just under 4% of power.

Installed wind generation capacity (gigawatts, cumulative installed capacity)
Installed wind generation capacity (gigawatts, cumulative installed capacity)