In the words of Bob Marley, the times are a-changing. Unfortunately, change can take a while to truly kick in, and that’s what we’re learning as we struggle to overhaul an energy economy for the needs of the 21st century.
The good news is that we’re leagues ahead of where we were forty or fifty years ago: coal burning and mining is down across the board, and renewable fuels are moving to secure their prominence on the global stage. The bad news – we’ve got a long, long road ahead of us before we can really “go green”.
At present, more than 90 per cent of the world’s energy is still produced through fossil fuels like oil and gasoline. Around seven percent comes from less damaging – but still worrisome – methods like hydroelectric dams and nuclear energy. That last three percent? That’s more or less the sum total of the impact of renewable energy like solar power.
But for a more hopeful take on this news, look to the story of the tortoise and the hare. Renewable energy is the tortoise, slowly but surely plodding along to overtake the competition. Between 2010 and 2015, solar energy alone saw a jaw-dropping 664 per cent increase in use across the globe. Last year, the world consumed three times as much wind energy and ten times as much solar energy than in 2010. Another ten or twenty years from now, solar energy will have made a major dent in the world’s economy.
But which countries are best suited to lead the charge from carbon to clean? This is a tricky, multi-layered problem with a variety of factors one must consider. For one thing, the environment plays a major role in the deployment and maintenance of renewable energy sources. Mountainous, hilly countries might struggle to deploy wind turbines, which function best on flat ground. Countries with long winters or perpetual rainstorms likewise won’t find much luck with solar energy. After that, it’s down to what kind of economic status the country has. Many Third World countries rely almost exclusively on fossil fuels; it’s cheaper to mine or import and the infrastructure surrounding these facilities may be prohibitively expensive to replace.
China – boasting a robust economy and plenty of flat ground – has made great strides in the wind market, contributing almost 34 per cent of the world’s current wind energy output. America comes up next, with 17 per cent of the total, while Germany comes in third with 10 per cent. Solar energy sees China once again leading the pack, with a meaty 19 per cent of its output. Germany and Japan are catching up, contributing 17 and 15 per cent respectively.
In the future, however, aspiring solar engineers might want to turn to the most unlikely country for solar development. It might not sport a GDP or per capita output, but it does have a lot of penguins. That’s right: Antarctica might be the next prime target for solar development. Its sheer size and positioning on the globe means that it receives more sunlight than anywhere else for six months at a time. Cold comfort, or a frosty breath of fresh air?