With many countries scrambling to beat the ticking clock that is global warming and adhere to the (admittedly non-binding) Paris Agreement, there has been encouraging news on clean energy of late with renewables gradually becoming the new normal. While CB previously took a closer look at India’s performance, here we cover some countries that are doing impressive work on combating global warming.

In 2018, the UK went 55 hours without generating any power from coal between 10:25 pm on 16 April and 5:10 am on 19 April (London time), breaking a historical record. During this time, power stations across the UK did not use any coal for power generation. The previous record of 40 hours was set in October 2017.

This is not the only encouraging trend. In 2017, Britain’s wind farms generated more electricity than coal power plants for more than 75 per cent of the year. It also has more offshore wind turbines installed than any other country. According to 2017 government figures, the reduction in coal usage was responsible for a 3 per cent drop in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to 2016. This is in line with the government’s aim to switch off all coal plants by 2025.

The UK’s renewable energy mix consists largely of wind and solar generation, and it has given renewables priority access to the grid. Not surprisingly then, UK is currently ranked sixth on the World Bank’s sustainable energy scorecard and fifth in terms of renewable energy.

Easily one of the leaders in renewable energy, Denmark had delved into it in 1981 when subsidies for the construction and operation of wind turbines and biomass plants were first introduced. Now the government has set the wheels in motion for 100 per cent of Denmark’s electricity and heat to be generated from renewable sources by 2035, and becoming independent of coal, oil and gas by 2050. The figure for electricity generation from renewable sources was 39 per cent in 2017.

Denmark has the lowest energy intensity (calculated as units of energy per unit of GDP, it is a measure of energy efficiency) ratio in the EU. Gross energy consumption increase was only 6 per cent from 1990 to 2013, while CO2 intensity decreased by 28 per cent due to switching from coal to natural gas, increased use of renewable energy, and district heating (an efficient system for distributing heat generated in a centralised location, such as a power station, for residential and commercial heating).

In 2017, wind power generated 43.4 per cent of electricity consumed in the country; by 2020, this is expected to go up to 50 per cent. In fact, in July 2015, Denmark’s windfarms produced more electricity than was needed by the country and, hence, the surplus power was exported to Norway, Germany and Sweden! In 2017, the Danish energy minister, Lars Christian Lilleholt, stated that he expected that the renewable-energy industry wouldn’t need any subsidies in a few years and would be able to thrive on its own much sooner than expected. Denmark’s last coal-fired power station has been decommissioned but is on standby mode until 2024.

One of the green leaders in Africa, Kenya has been making steady progress towards renewables. As much as 85 per cent of its energy mix is from renewable sources. Geothermal energy is a major source of power and the country is one of the largest steam-power producers in the world. It further wants to add 1,745 MW of geothermal generation by 2025. The Climatescope 2015 report, which measured the clean-energy competitiveness index, placed Kenya sixth in the world for large investments in renewable energy.

The Kenyan government’s energy policy, Kenya Vision 2030, has spelled out the details of how a majority of its electricity requirements will be from renewable sources and has directed power producers to eliminate fossil fuels. It has pledged to cut its carbon emissions by 30 per cent by 2030.
In 2017, the energy-mix estimate was like this: 47 per cent from geothermal, 39 per cent from hydro, wind 1 per cent, and fossil fuels accounted for the remaining 13 per cent. Kenya is leading Africa in terms of the number of solar-power systems installed per capita. Projects like the Lake Turkana Wind Power project – the largest wind farm in Africa – which is set to provide 310 MW of renewable power to the Kenyan national grid should help in keeping this energy mix clean and green. However, it is still far behind countries like South Africa when it comes to installed solar capacity. The country is also struggling with (and something that Indians can identify with) its electricity coverage, which is still inadequate. Many Kenyans still don’t have access to non-stop electricity.

Costa Rica
In 2017, news of Costa Rica’s electricity being sourced entirely through renewables for 300 days since January made the rounds of every newspaper and website. This is a feat no other country has managed to date. Costa Rica had already crossed the 250 continuous days threshold in 2015 and 2016. The country’s energy mix is 78 per cent hydro and 10 per cent each from wind and geothermal, with biomass and solar accounting for 1 per cent. This brings the renewable mix to a whopping 99 per cent. Bear in mind that the country still uses fossil fuels for its transportation sector, gas-heating of buildings, etc. So, when one looks at its total energy use, the share of renewables goes down significantly.

As per the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Costa Rica is the largest producer of clean energy in Central America and the Caribbean. While its small population and abundant natural resources obviously help, it is still no mean feat. Much before ‘fossil fuel’ became a dirty word, Costa Rica had refrained from investing in this industry and the results are showing. It has also been making major investments in wind and geothermal plants in the past 25 years to reduce its over-reliance on dams. Its percentage of non-hydro renewables is still higher than the world average.

Earlier this year, Costa Rica declared that it will fully decarbonize by 2050, with President Carlos Alvarado officially signing the decree to this effect. It aims to be the first country to become carbon-neutral.

In 2015, Uruguay announced that 95 per cent of its electricity was powered by renewables, less than 10 years after it started investing in wind and solar (for the sake of comparison, the same figure for India in 2015 was 15 per cent). This was achieved with no subsidies or increases in consumer costs. This was even more remarkable considering that around the turn of the new millennium, oil accounted for 27 per cent of Uruguay’s imports. The government attributed this success to clear decision-making, a supportive regulatory environment, accessible financing, and a strong public-private partnership.

Renewables accounted for 55 per cent of the country’s total energy mix in 2015. However, Uruguay has not added any new hydropower plants since the past two decades, so this growth is mainly from other renewable sources. Wind power has shown a small but encouraging uptick.

The government’s policy framework has outlined the twin goals of saving US$10 million through source substitution and energy efficiency and rank as the top performer in energy intensity globally by 2030. Its Nationally Determined Contribution has an unconditional target to cut emissions per unit of GDP by 25 per cent by 2030, base year being 1990. In January 2018, wind and solar generation reached 44 per cent of total electricity generation, which puts the country in second place, behind Denmark, in a global ranking of national wind and solar power market share. Its energy mix is already quite diverse.

However, with increasing privatisation of energy generation, high tax exemptions to business, and practices such as the government committing to buy all energy produced by wind farms for 30 years at a fixed price in dollars means that the poorest have to pay a higher share of their income on electricity bills compared to the rich and middle class. There are other challenges as well – the transport sector still depends on oil (which accounts for about 45 per cent of the total energy mix) but encouragingly, other industries, such as agricultural processing, are now driven by biomass-cogeneration plants.

China may be one of the world’s biggest polluters but it has rapidly become the world’s biggest investor in renewable energy. Its investments span domestic ($102 bn in 2015, more than twice that of the US) and foreign including countries like Australia, Germany and Chile as part of its Belt and Road Initiative. In 2017, China announced that it would invest $360 billion in renewable energy by 2020. It is already the global market leader in hydropower, bioenergy for electricity and heat, and electric vehicles.

China owns five of the world’s six largest solar-module manufacturing firms, the largest wind-turbine manufacturer, the world’s largest lithium-ion manufacturer, 6 of the 10 major car manufacturers committed to electrification, and the world’s largest electricity utility. The country has committed to reducing fossil-fuel consumption and unlike its main rival, the US, is still a signatory to the Paris Accord. As per this report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), China will continue to lead the world in renewable-energy development for many years to come.

As with everything ‘China’, some of the numbers are truly astounding. China will account for over 40 per cent of the total global clean-energy mix by 2022. In July 2017, China’s solar PV (photovoltaic) capacity touched 112GW, after installing 35GW in just seven months, which is more than twice as much as installed by any other country in all of 2016. This meant that total solar PV capacity exceeded the official 2020 goal of 105GW set in 2016. In 2017, its solar manufacturers accounted for about 60 per cent of global solar-cell production. It is also on track to surpass its wind target in 2019. Its cumulative wind-power installation will far exceed the total wind-power capacity of Europe (including UK) by 2020. One can go on with the mind-boggling numbers that will easily fill up a small book.

Apparently, the high levels of pollution that are synonymous with China have pushed the government to take bold measures. Then, of course, there’s the country’s growing energy demand which, as per estimates, may account for 28 per cent of the world’s primary energy demand by 2035, up from 23 per cent in 2018. In its 13th Five-Year Plan, the government aims to reduce energy intensity by 15 per cent between 2016 and 2020, and is already well on its way toward achieving that. It is also rolling out additional new measures to reduce its dependence on coal. The huge investments in clean energy also means that China is poised to become a leader in cutting-edge technology in this fast-growing field.

As of 2015, coal still accounted for the largest share of its electricity generation at 72 per cent. However, as per projections, this share will steadily decrease to nearly 50 per cent by 2040, with renewables making up a bulk of the remaining half. Installed power generation will also be led by clean energy, making up 60 per cent of total capacity by 2040. Renewable energy is expected to become the main power source by 2030. China has pledged to peak its emissions by 2030 at least, as part of its Paris Accord commitments.

Clarion call for India
This is a small sample of what best-in-class countries are doing about climate change. Whether they be one of the world’s superpowers like China or a tiny nation like Costa Rica, there are enough best practices, strategies and lessons that India can emulate and learn from. While there are some encouraging signs in India’s use of renewables, it still has a long way to go if it wants to catch up with the likes of Uruguay who generate more than 90 per cent of their electricity needs through clean energy sources and are investing substantially to make this number true for the total energy mix as well.

While we need more ambitious targets, the tendency to relegate existing efforts in service of other, less politically expedient issues needs to be done away with. The march towards renewables has to be in tandem with 100 per cent electrification of India’s population which, as per official figures, was at 84.5 per cent in 2016. However, as per this 2015 report, even though 96 per cent of villages are electrified, only 69 per cent of homes have electricity connections (an electrified village doesn’t mean all its households have electricity). As of 2015, electricity was still a distant dream for 240 million Indians.

With a burgeoning population and rapid growth, energy demand will only increase. Investing in clean energy will not only reduce energy intensity but will also help the country contribute significantly in the fight against global warming. Total installed renewable-energy capacity (including hydro) was around 32.26 per cent of total energy capacity of the country in February 2018. With solar power rates continuing to plummet – in May 2017, the tariff reached Rs 2.44 per unit – there’s no reason why India cannot hope to emulate the milestones set by other green countries. Even though the country isn’t responsible for the mess that the planet is currently in, if it doesn’t take its current and future green duties seriously, it may well be the proverbial straw that broke Earth’s back.