Energy Transition update: 2016

My readers will forgive that a rather lengthy absence from this blog has meant that I have not updated my global renewable energy statistics yet with numbers for the full year 2015, most of which have been out for a few months.

The numbers which are available maintain earlier trends, namely a stagnation in Western Europe (with the notable exceptions of Denmark and Ireland), substantial installation volumes in China and the United States, which unfortunately do not bring these nations to Western European levels, but also progress in other regions.

But first, for those of you not familiar with my statistics, a few notes on my frame. I look at non-hydro renewable energy in the electricity sector, because this is where the transformation is mostly taking place at present, and because electricity is the strategic sector for transforming all other energy systems away from fossil fuels.

I am not concerned as much with raw volume as with transformation, which is why I write more about Denmark than China. As such the primary metric that I use is percentage of (non-hydro) renewable energy in the electricity mix. I also don’t look much at geothermal, as this is a resources that some nations are blessed with and many others are not, making Iceland and Costa Rica less suitable models for other nations seeking to transform their energy systems.

Finally, I look at nations, not grids, first because nations are where political decisions are made, and second because there is yet to be a grid that has been reached any sort of natural limit of renewable energy penetration (chiefly, because there isn’t any such thing).


Non-hydro renewables
Denmark: 56% (42% wind)
Germany: 27%
Spain: 26%
Ireland: 24% (21% wind)

No surprises here. Denmark has maintained its leadership, with wind meeting a full 42% of electricity consumption, and non-hydro renewables hitting 56% overall, largely due to biomass (Update: As of early December, statistics have become available from the Danish Energy Agency). Denmark simply has been deploying wind longer, more aggressively and more consistently than any other nation.

Another change in 2015 was that Germany (finally) outpaced Spain in terms of the portion of non-hydro renewables in its electricity mix, reaching a full 27%. This is all the more remarkable given that Energy and Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) pretty much destroyed the nation’s solar market in 2014 by dismantling the feed-in tariff and imposing the feed-in tariff surcharge on self-consumption systems.

Not surprisingly, the big increase in German renewables output comes from wind, which has reached 13% of demand, including a substantial build-out of offshore wind.

The results are fairly dismal in many parts of Europe. In the UK Conservatives also destroyed the nation’s renewable energy policies, while Spain continued its 1/2-decade of dead renewable energy markets thanks to the center-right Partido Popular government, and as a result has remained at 26-27% renewable energy for years.

However, Ireland is a new success story, and with a rapid build-out of wind has entered the ranks of top renewable energy producers.


The United States

7.6% non-hydro renewables

Across the pond, U.S. wind and solar markets continue to grow rapidly, while still remaining geographically limited enough that full-scale transformation is still a ways off.

The United States reached 7.6% non-hydro renewable energy (14% overall), with the increase from previous years largely coming from wind. Solar contributed a paltry 1% of the nation’s electricity. Since we already have H1 2016 statistics, the non-hydro number jumps to 9.1%, which is still depressingly low if a significant improvement.

Individual states such as California, which is ahead of the game to reach 33% renewable energy by 2020, are bright points here.

Latin America

Non-hydro renewables
Nicaragua: 41%
Costa Rica: 24%
Honduras: 17%
Chile: 9.6%

The region which to me is most interesting is not California or Germany, but Latin America, where certain nations are moving more rapidly than Western Europe did at its peak. Namely, Chile has reached 9.6% non-hydro renewables in its electricity mix, including 2.7% solar PV and 4.6% wind.

These numbers will be much higher by the end of this year, when another 2 GW of solar PV comes online. Solar alone is expected to jump to around 8% of electricity generation, putting Chile above Germany and nearly as high as Italy, which has the highest portion of solar in its electricity mix of any large nation.

Even more impressive is the progress made in Central America. The story of the region’s Energy Transition has largely not been told, but in broad strokes Costa Rica has led since the 1980s with geothermal and later wind, in the early 2000s Nicaragua followed and installed a ton of wind, and in the last few years the region has broadly been building solar PV, led by Honduras.

As for 2015 statistics, Costa Rica got 99% of its electricity from renewables (24% non-hydro), and Nicaragua is got 41% of its power from non-hydro renewables, including more than 20% from wind, putting it roughly in a tie with Spain for fourth place after Denmark, Portugal and Ireland for the most wind in its electricity mix of any nation on earth.

In terms of total portion of non-hydro renewables in its electricity mix Nicaragua is one of the top nations on earth, surpassed only by Nordic nations.

But while renewable energy development in Nicaragua has slowed, Honduras has been more active. The nation reached 16.6% non-hydro renewables, including 7.9% wind and 4.9% solar PV, most of which is from plants that came online this year thanks to a standard offer for large-scale solar.

Since these projects have not had a full year of output, Honduras’ numbers for solar generation will doubtless by higher next year.

What is most remarkable to me is that this is happening in some of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere. As it turns out, it is not only affluent nations that are engaged in the Energy Transition.

More on that later.

(For sources for Central America statistics, contact me at


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