Ranked: The Countries with the Most Sustainable Energy Policies
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Ranked: Countries with the Most Sustainable Energy Policies

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Countries with the Most Sustainable Energy Policies

Ranked: Countries With Most Sustainable Energy Policies

The sourcing and distribution of energy is one of the most pressing issues of our time.

Just under one billion people still lack basic access to electricity, and many more connect to the grid through improvised wiring or live through frequent blackouts. On the flip side of the socioeconomic spectrum, a growing chorus of voices is pressuring governments and corporations to power the global economy in a more sustainable way.

Today’s visualization – using data from the World Energy Council (WEC) – ranks countries based on their mix of policies for tackling issues like energy security and environmental sustainability.

The Energy Trilemma Index

According to WEC, there are three primary policy areas that form the “trilemma”:

1. Energy Security
A nation’s capacity to meet current and future energy demand reliably, and bounce back swiftly from system shocks with minimal disruption to supply. This dimension covers the effectiveness of management of domestic and external energy sources, as well as the reliability and resilience of energy infrastructure.

2. Energy Equity
A country’s ability to provide universal access to reliable, affordable, and abundant energy for domestic and commercial use. This dimension captures basic access to electricity and clean cooking fuels and technologies, access to prosperity-enabling levels of energy consumption, and affordability of electricity, gas, and fuel.

3. Environmental Sustainability
The transition of a country’s energy system towards mitigating and avoiding environmental harm and climate change impacts. This dimension focuses on productivity and efficiency of generation, transmission and distribution, decarbonization, and air quality.

Using the dimensions above, a score out of 100 is generated. Here’s a complete ranking that shows which countries have the most sustainable energy policies:

RankCountryTrilemma ScoreLetter Grade*
1🇨🇭 Switzerland85.8AAA
2🇸🇪 Sweden85.2AAA
3🇩🇰 Denmark84.7AAA
4🇬🇧 United Kingdom81.5AAA
5🇫🇮 Finland81.1AAA
6🇫🇷 France80.8AAA
7🇦🇹 Austria80.7AAA
8🇱🇺 Luxembourg80.4BAA
9🇩🇪 Germany79.4AAA
10🇳🇿 New Zealand79.4AAA
11🇳🇴 Norway79.3CAA
12🇸🇮 Slovenia79.2AAA
13🇨🇦 Canada78.0AAC
14🇳🇱 Netherlands77.8BAB
15🇺🇸 United States77.5AAB
16🇨🇿 Czech Republic77.4AAB
17🇺🇾 Uruguay77.2ABA
18🇪🇸 Spain77.0BAA
19🇭🇺 Hungary76.8AAB
20🇮🇹 Italy76.8BAA
21🇮🇸 Iceland76.2BAB
22🇱🇻 Latvia76.1ABA
23🇸🇰 Slovakia75.6ABA
24🇧🇪 Belgium75.2BAA
25🇮🇪 Ireland75.2CAA
26🇷🇴 Romania75.1ABA
27🇭🇷 Croatia74.9ABA
28🇦🇺 Australia74.7BAB
29🇵🇹 Portugal74.0BBB
30🇪🇪 Estonia73.8BAB
31🇯🇵 Japan73.8CAB
32🇮🇱 Israel73.3CAB
33🇲🇹 Malta72.9DAA
34🇭🇰 Hong Kong (China)72.5DAB
35🇦🇷 Argentina72.4BAB
36🇱🇹 Lithuania72.4CBA
37🇰🇷 South Korea71.7BAC
38🇨🇷 Costa Rica71.6CBA
39🇧🇷 Brazil71.6ABA
40🇲🇽 Mexico71.3ABB
41🇧🇬 Bulgaria71.3BBB
42🇷🇺 Russia71.2AAC
43🇸🇬 Singapore71.2DAB
44🇻🇪 Venezuela70.3ABB
45🇪🇨 Ecuador69.6ABB
46🇵🇦 Panama69.5CBA
47🇬🇷 Greece69.5CBA
48🇨🇱 Chile69.4BBB
49🇨🇴 Colombia69.3BCA
50🇲🇺 Mauritius69.0CBB
51🇲🇾 Malaysia68.5BBC
52🇦🇪 U.A.E.68.3BAD
53🇵🇱 Poland68.3BBB
54🇨🇾 Cyprus67.9DBB
55🇶🇦 Qatar67.9AAD
56🇧🇳 Brunei67.7CBC
57🇦🇿 Azerbaijan67.7BBB
58🇵🇪 Peru66.8ACB
59🇰🇿 Kazakhstan66.6BBC
60🇦🇲 Armenia66.3CBB
61🇺🇦 Ukraine66.0ACC
62🇸🇻 El Salvador66.0BCA
63🇴🇲 Oman65.5BAD
64🇲🇪 Montenegro65.4CBB
65🇰🇼 Kuwait65.2CAD
66🇹🇷 Turkey64.9CBC
67🇵🇾 Paraguay64.7DBA
68🇹🇭 Thailand64.6CBC
69🇮🇩 Indonesia64.1BCC
70🇷🇸 Serbia63.8BBC
71🇲🇰 North Macedonia63.7CBC
72🇨🇳 China63.7BBD
73🇦🇱 Albania63.7DBA
74🇮🇷 Iran63.6ABD
75🇹🇳 Tunisia63.6BBC
76🇹🇹 Trinidad and Tobago63.3CAD
77🇬🇪 Georgia63.1CBC
78🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia62.8CAD
79🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herz.62.1BBC
80🇧🇭 Bahrain62.1BAD
81🇱🇧 Lebanon61.6DAC
82🇩🇿 Algeria61.3CBD
83🇲🇦 Morocco61.1CCC
84🇧🇴 Bolivia60.4BCC
85🇱🇰 Sri Lanka60.1BCB
86🇦🇴 Angola60.0ADB
87🇪🇬 Egypt59.9BBD
88🇬🇹 Guatemala59.7BCC
89🇬🇦 Gabon59.5CBD
90🇳🇦 Namibia59.1CDA
91🇻🇳 Vietnam58.9ACD
92🇿🇦 South Africa58.9DBD
93🇮🇶 Iraq58.9BBD
94🇵🇭 Philippines58.6BCC
95🇯🇴 Jordan58.5DBC
96🇧🇼 Botswana57.7DCC
97🇩🇴 Dominican Republic57.6DBB
98🇯🇲 Jamaica56.9DBC
99🇹🇯 Tajikistan55.7DCC
100🇭🇳 Honduras55.3DCC
101🇸🇿 Eswatini55.1DCC
102🇳🇮 Nicaragua54.5DCC
103🇬🇭 Ghana52.9CDC
104🇲🇲 Myanmar51.9BDB
105🇰🇭 Cambodia51.6CDC
106🇰🇪 Kenya51.3BDB
107🇲🇩 Moldova51.2DCD
108🇲🇳 Mongolia51.1DCD
109🇮🇳 India50.3BDD
110🇵🇰 Pakistan49.6CDD
111🇨🇮 Côte d’Ivoire49.3BDC
112🇿🇲 Zambia47.8CDB
113🇨🇲 Cameroon47.4BDD
114🇧🇩 Bangladesh47.1DDC
115🇿🇼 Zimbabwe46.0CDC
116🇲🇷 Mauritania45.6BDD
117🇳🇵 Nepal44.3DDC
118🇸🇳 Senegal43.4DDD
119🇹🇿 Tanzania42.5DDC
120🇪🇹 Ethiopia42.3DDC
121🇲🇬 Madagascar42.2CDC
122🇲🇿 Mozambique41.4DDC
123🇳🇬 Nigeria40.7BDD
124🇲🇼 Malawi39.1DDB
125🇧🇯 Benin36.3DDD
126🇹🇩 Chad33.8DDD
127🇨🇩 D.R.C.33.8DDC
128🇳🇪 Niger30.0DDD

*The letter grade represents national performance in three dimensions. The first letter represents Security, the second letter represents Equity, the third letter represents the Environmental Sustainability. The top grade is AAA, the lowest is DDD.

Highs, Lows, and Outliers

Every country has unique circumstances — from strategic energy reserves to green energy ambitions — that shape their domestic energy policies. Let’s take a closer look at some of the more interesting situations around the world.

Sweden

sweden energy trilemma index

Qatar

qatar energy trilemma index

Singapore

singapore energy trilemma index

Dominican Republic

dominican republic energy trilemma index

Niger

niger energy trilemma index

Global Energy Outlook

Achieving the balance of prosperity and sustainability is a goal of nearly every country, but it takes stability and the right mix of policies to get the job done.

The fact that many trilemma scores are improving is an indicator that the world’s patchwork of energy policies are slowly moving in the right direction.

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Energy

Mapped: Global Energy Prices, by Country in 2022

Energy prices have been extremely volatile in 2022. Which countries are seeing the highest prices in the world?

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Energy Prices

Mapped: Global Energy Prices, by Country in 2022

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

For some countries, energy prices hit historic levels in 2022.

Gasoline, electricity, and natural gas prices skyrocketed as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ruptured global energy supply chains. Households and businesses are facing higher energy bills amid extreme price volatility. Uncertainty surrounding the war looms large, and winter heating costs are projected to soar.

Given the global consequences of the energy crisis, the above infographic shows the price of energy for households by country, with data from GlobalPetrolPrices.com.

1. Global Energy Prices: Gasoline

Which countries and regions pay the most for a gallon of gas?

RankCountry/ RegionGasoline Prices
(USD per Gallon)
1🇭🇰 Hong Kong$11.1
2🇨🇫 Central African Republic$8.6
3🇮🇸 Iceland$8.5
4🇳🇴 Norway$8.1
5🇧🇧 Barbados$7.8
6🇩🇰 Denmark$7.7
7🇬🇷 Greece$7.6
8🇫🇮 Finland$7.6
9🇳🇱 Netherlands$7.6
10🇧🇪 Belgium$7.4
11🇬🇧 United Kingdom$7.2
12🇪🇪 Estonia$7.2
13🇨🇭 Switzerland$7.2
14🇸🇬 Singapore$7.2
15🇸🇪 Sweden$7.1
16🇸🇨 Seychelles$7.1
17🇮🇱 Israel$7.0
18🇩🇪 Germany$7.0
19🇺🇾 Uruguay$7.0
20🇼🇫 Wallis and Futuna$7.0
21🇱🇮 Liechtenstein$6.9
22🇮🇪 Ireland$6.8
23🇵🇹 Portugal$6.8
24🇱🇻 Latvia$6.7
25🇧🇿 Belize$6.7
26🇦🇱 Albania$6.6
27🇦🇹 Austria$6.6
28🇲🇨 Monaco$6.6
29🇪🇸 Spain$6.5
30🇨🇿 Czech Republic$6.5
31🇲🇼 Malawi$6.5
32🇰🇾 Cayman Islands$6.4
33🇸🇰 Slovakia$6.4
34🇲🇺 Mauritius$6.3
35🇱🇺 Luxembourg$6.3
36🇱🇹 Lithuania$6.3
37🇦🇩 Andorra$6.3
38🇮🇹 Italy$6.3
39🇺🇬 Uganda$6.2
40🇭🇺 Hungary$6.2
41🇯🇴 Jordan$6.2
42🇸🇾 Syria$6.1
43🇫🇷 France$6.0
44🇧🇮 Burundi$6.0
45🇧🇸 Bahamas$6.0
46🇳🇿 New Zealand$5.8
47🇸🇲 San Marino$5.8
48🇭🇷 Croatia$5.8
49🇷🇴 Romania$5.7
50🇾🇹 Mayotte$5.7
51🇷🇼 Rwanda$5.7
52🇿🇲 Zambia$5.7
53🇷🇸 Serbia$5.7
54🇱🇦 Laos$5.6
55🇲🇳 Mongolia$5.6
56🇰🇪 Kenya$5.6
57🇨🇾 Cyprus$5.6
58🇯🇲 Jamaica$5.5
59🇲🇰 Northern Macedonia$5.5
60🇨🇱 Chile$5.5
61🇧🇦 Bosnia$5.5
62🇱🇨 Saint Lucia$5.4
63🇵🇱 Poland$5.4
64🇩🇴 Dominican Republic$5.4
65🇨🇦 Canada$5.4
66🇲🇦 Morocco$5.4
67🇦🇼 Aruba$5.4
68🇸🇮 Slovenia$5.3
69🇧🇬 Bulgaria$5.3
70🇵🇪 Peru$5.3
71🇱🇰 Sri Lanka$5.3
72🇨🇷 Costa Rica$5.2
73🇲🇬 Madagascar$5.2
74🇬🇳 Guinea$5.2
75🇳🇵 Nepal$5.2
76🇲🇿 Mozambique$5.2
77🇳🇮 Nicaragua$5.2
78🇲🇱 Mali$5.1
79🇸🇳 Senegal$5.1
80🇺🇦 Ukraine$5.1
81🇩🇲 Dominica$5.0
82🇲🇪 Montenegro$5.0
83🇲🇹 Malta$5.0
84🇲🇩 Moldova$5.0
85🇨🇩 DR Congo$5.0
86🇨🇼 Curacao$4.9
87🇨🇻 Cape Verde$4.9
88🇧🇩 Bangladesh$4.9
89🇱🇷 Liberia$4.8
90🇰🇭 Cambodia$4.8
91🇮🇳 India$4.8
92🇨🇺 Cuba$4.8
93🇭🇳 Honduras$4.7
94🇬🇪 Georgia$4.7
95🇿🇦 South Africa$4.7
96🇹🇿 Tanzania$4.7
97🇫🇯 Fiji$4.7
98🇨🇳 China$4.7
99🇲🇽 Mexico$4.6
100🇬🇹 Guatemala$4.6

Source: GlobalPetrolPrices.com. As of October 31, 2022. Represents average household prices.

At an average $11.10 per gallon, households in Hong Kong pay the highest for gasoline in the world—more than double the global average. Both high gas taxes and steep land costs are primary factors behind high gas prices.

Like Hong Kong, the Central African Republic has high gas costs, at $8.60 per gallon. As a net importer of gasoline, the country has faced increased price pressures since the war in Ukraine.

Households in Iceland, Norway, and Denmark face the highest gasoline costs in Europe. Overall, Europe has seen inflation hit 10% in September, driven by the energy crisis.

2. Global Energy Prices: Electricity

Extreme volatility is also being seen in electricity prices.

The majority of the highest household electricity prices are in Europe, where Denmark, Germany, and Belgium’s prices are about double that of France and Greece. For perspective, electricity prices in many countries in Europe are more than twice or three times the global average of $0.14 per kilowatt-hour.

Over the first quarter of 2022, household electricity prices in the European Union jumped 32% compared to the year before.

RankCountry/ RegionElectricity Prices
(kWh, USD)
1🇩🇰 Denmark$0.46
2🇩🇪 Germany$0.44
3🇧🇪 Belgium$0.41
4🇧🇲 Bermuda$0.40
5🇰🇾 Cayman Islands$0.35
6🇯🇲 Jamaica$0.34
7🇬🇧 United Kingdom$0.32
8🇪🇸 Spain$0.32
9🇳🇱 Netherlands$0.32
10🇧🇧 Barbados$0.32
11🇪🇪 Estonia$0.32
12🇱🇹 Lithuania$0.31
13🇦🇹 Austria$0.31
14🇮🇹 Italy$0.30
15🇨🇿 Czech Republic$0.29
16🇨🇻 Cape Verde$0.28
17🇮🇪 Ireland$0.28
18🇸🇪 Sweden$0.27
19🇧🇸 Bahamas$0.26
20🇬🇹 Guatemala$0.26
21🇱🇮 Liechtenstein$0.26
22🇨🇾 Cyprus$0.25
23🇷🇼 Rwanda$0.25
24🇭🇳 Honduras$0.24
25🇺🇾 Uruguay$0.24
26🇵🇹 Portugal$0.24
27🇸🇻 El Salvador$0.23
28🇱🇻 Latvia$0.22
29🇫🇮 Finland$0.22
30🇱🇺 Luxembourg$0.22
31🇧🇿 Belize$0.22
32🇯🇵 Japan$0.22
33🇨🇭 Switzerland$0.22
34🇵🇪 Peru$0.21
35🇰🇪 Kenya$0.21
36🇦🇺 Australia$0.21
37🇧🇷 Brazil$0.20
38🇲🇱 Mali$0.20
39🇸🇬 Singapore$0.19
40🇷🇴 Romania$0.19
41🇧🇫 Burkina Faso$0.19
42🇸🇮 Slovenia$0.19
43🇬🇦 Gabon$0.19
44🇸🇰 Slovakia$0.19
45🇦🇼 Aruba$0.19
46🇬🇷 Greece$0.19
47🇫🇷 France$0.18
48🇳🇿 New Zealand$0.18
49🇹🇬 Togo$0.18
50🇳🇮 Nicaragua$0.17
51🇻🇪 Venezuela$0.17
52🇵🇦 Panama$0.17
53🇵🇭 Philippines$0.17
54🇵🇱 Poland$0.17
55🇮🇱 Israel$0.16
56🇺🇲 U.S.$0.16
57🇺🇬 Uganda$0.16
58🇭🇰 Hong Kong$0.16
59🇸🇳 Senegal$0.16
60🇲🇴 Macao$0.15
61🇨🇱 Chile$0.15
62🇰🇭 Cambodia$0.15
63🇿🇦 South Africa$0.14
64🇲🇺 Mauritius$0.14
65🇲🇬 Madagascar$0.14
66🇭🇷 Croatia$0.14
67🇮🇸 Iceland$0.14
68🇳🇴 Norway$0.13
69🇲🇹 Malta$0.13
70🇲🇿 Mozambique$0.13
71🇨🇴 Colombia$0.13
72🇧🇬 Bulgaria$0.12
73🇲🇻 Maldives$0.12
74🇨🇷 Costa Rica$0.12
75🇨🇦 Canada$0.11
76🇲🇼 Malawi$0.11
77🇨🇮 Ivory Coast$0.11
78🇳🇦 Namibia$0.11
79🇲🇦 Morocco$0.11
80🇹🇭 Thailand$0.10
81🇦🇲 Armenia$0.10
82🇯🇴 Jordan$0.10
83🇹🇿 Tanzania$0.10
84🇸🇿 Swaziland$0.10
85🇪🇨 Ecuador$0.10
86🇧🇼 Botswana$0.10
87🇩🇴 Dominican Republic$0.10
88🇲🇰 Northern Macedonia$0.10
89🇦🇱 Albania$0.10
90🇱🇸 Lesotho$0.09
91🇸🇱 Sierra Leone$0.09
92🇮🇩 Indonesia$0.09
93🇧🇾 Belarus$0.09
94🇭🇺 Hungary$0.09
95🇧🇦 Bosnia & Herzegovina$0.09
96🇹🇼 Taiwan$0.09
97🇰🇷 South Korea$0.09
98🇲🇽 Mexico$0.09
99🇷🇸 Serbia$0.09
100🇨🇩 DR Congo$0.08

Source: GlobalPetrolPrices.com. As of March 31, 2022. Represents average household prices.

In the U.S., consumer electricity prices have increased nearly 16% annually compared to September last year, the highest increase in over four decades, fueling higher inflation.

However, households are more sheltered from the impact of Russian supply disruptions due to the U.S. being a net exporter of energy.

3. Global Energy Prices: Natural Gas

Eight of the 10 highest natural gas prices globally fall in Europe, with the Netherlands at the top. Overall, European natural gas prices have spiked sixfold in a year since the invasion of Ukraine.

RankCountry/ RegionNatural Gas Prices
(kWh, USD)
1🇳🇱 Netherlands$0.41
2🇸🇪 Sweden$0.24
3🇩🇪 Germany$0.21
4🇧🇷 Brazil$0.20
5🇩🇰 Denmark$0.19
6🇪🇸 Spain$0.17
7🇮🇹 Italy$0.16
8🇦🇹 Austria$0.16
9🇸🇬 Singapore$0.15
10🇧🇪 Belgium$0.15
11🇭🇰 Hong Kong$0.14
12🇨🇿 Czech Republic$0.14
13🇬🇷 Greece$0.12
14🇫🇷 France$0.12
15🇯🇵 Japan$0.11
16🇬🇧 United Kingdom$0.10
17🇨🇭 Switzerland$0.10
18🇨🇱 Chile$0.10
19🇵🇹 Portugal$0.09
20🇧🇧 Barbados$0.09
21🇵🇱 Poland$0.09
22🇧🇬 Bulgaria$0.09
23🇮🇪 Ireland$0.08
24🇦🇺 Australia$0.07
25🇲🇽 Mexico$0.07
26🇳🇿 New Zealand$0.06
27🇸🇰 Slovakia$0.06
28🇺🇲 U.S.$0.05
29🇰🇷 South Korea$0.04
30🇨🇴 Colombia$0.04
31🇨🇦 Canada$0.03
32🇷🇸 Serbia$0.03
33🇹🇼 Taiwan$0.03
34🇺🇦 Ukraine$0.03
35🇲🇾 Malaysia$0.03
36🇭🇺 Hungary$0.03
37🇹🇳 Tunisia$0.02
38🇦🇿 Azerbaijan$0.01
39🇧🇭 Bahrain$0.01
40🇧🇩 Bangladesh$0.01
41🇹🇷 Turkey$0.01
42🇷🇺 Russia$0.01
43🇦🇷 Argentina$0.01
44🇧🇾 Belarus$0.01
45🇩🇿 Algeria$0.00
46🇮🇷 Iran$0.00

Source: GlobalPetrolPrices.com. As of March 31, 2022. Represents average household prices.

The good news is that the fall season has been relatively warm, which has helped European natural gas demand drop 22% in October compared to last year. This helps reduce the risk of gas shortages transpiring later in the winter.

Outside of Europe, Brazil has the fourth highest natural gas prices globally, despite producing about half of supply domestically. High costs of cooking gas have been especially challenging for low-income families, which became a key political issue in the run-up to the presidential election in October.

Meanwhile, Singapore has the highest natural gas prices in Asia as the majority is imported via tankers or pipelines, leaving the country vulnerable to price shocks.

Increasing Competition

By December, all seaborne crude oil shipments from Russia to Europe will come to a halt, likely pushing up gasoline prices into the winter and 2023.

Concerningly, analysis from the EIA shows that European natural gas storage capacities could sink to 20% by February if Russia completely shuts off its supply and demand is not reduced.

As Europe seeks out alternatives to Russian energy, higher demand could increase global competition for fuel sources, driving up prices for energy in the coming months ahead.

Still, there is some room for optimism: the World Bank projects energy prices will decline 11% in 2023 after the 60% rise seen after the war in Ukraine in 2022.

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Energy

Visualizing the World’s Largest Hydroelectric Dams

Hydroelectric dams generate 40% of the world’s renewable energy, the largest of any type. View this infographic to learn more.

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Visualizing the World’s Largest Hydroelectric Dams

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

Did you know that hydroelectricity is the world’s biggest source of renewable energy? According to recent figures from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), it represents 40% of total capacity, ahead of solar (28%) and wind (27%).

This type of energy is generated by hydroelectric power stations, which are essentially large dams that use the water flow to spin a turbine. They can also serve secondary functions such as flow monitoring and flood control.

To help you learn more about hydropower, we’ve visualized the five largest hydroelectric dams in the world, ranked by their maximum output.

Overview of the Data

The following table lists key information about the five dams shown in this graphic, as of 2021. Installed capacity is the maximum amount of power that a plant can generate under full load.

CountryDamRiverInstalled Capacity
(gigawatts)
Dimensions
(meters)
🇨🇳 ChinaThree Gorges DamYangtze River22.5181 x 2,335
🇧🇷 Brazil / 🇵🇾 ParaguayItaipu DamParana River14.0196 x 7,919
🇨🇳 ChinaXiluodu DamJinsha River13.9286 x 700
🇧🇷 BrazilBelo Monte DamXingu River11.290 X 3,545
🇻🇪 VenezuelaGuri DamCaroni River10.2162 x 7,426

At the top of the list is China’s Three Gorges Dam, which opened in 2003. It has an installed capacity of 22.5 gigawatts (GW), which is close to double the second-place Itaipu Dam.

In terms of annual output, the Itaipu Dam actually produces about the same amount of electricity. This is because the Parana River has a low seasonal variance, meaning the flow rate changes very little throughout the year. On the other hand, the Yangtze River has a significant drop in flow for several months of the year.

For a point of comparison, here is the installed capacity of the world’s three largest solar power plants, also as of 2021:

  • Bhadla Solar Park, India: 2.2 GW
  • Hainan Solar Park, China: 2.2 GW
  • Pavagada Solar Park, India: 2.1 GW

Compared to our largest dams, solar plants have a much lower installed capacity. However, in terms of cost (cents per kilowatt-hour), the two are actually quite even.

Closer Look: Three Gorges Dam

The Three Gorges Dam is an engineering marvel, costing over $32 billion to construct. To wrap your head around its massive scale, consider the following facts:

  • The Three Gorges Reservoir (which feeds the dam) contains 39 trillion kg of water (42 billion tons)
  • In terms of area, the reservoir spans 400 square miles (1,045 square km)
  • The mass of this reservoir is large enough to slow the Earth’s rotation by 0.06 microseconds

Of course, any man-made structure this large is bound to have a profound impact on the environment. In a 2010 study, it was found that the dam has triggered over 3,000 earthquakes and landslides since 2003.

The Consequences of Hydroelectric Dams

While hydropower can be cost-effective, there are some legitimate concerns about its long-term sustainability.

For starters, hydroelectric dams require large upstream reservoirs to ensure a consistent supply of water. Flooding new areas of land can disrupt wildlife, degrade water quality, and even cause natural disasters like earthquakes.

Dams can also disrupt the natural flow of rivers. Other studies have found that millions of people living downstream from large dams suffer from food insecurity and flooding.

Whereas the benefits have generally been delivered to urban centers or industrial-scale agricultural developments, river-dependent populations located downstream of dams have experienced a difficult upheaval of their livelihoods.
– Richter, B.D. et al. (2010)

Perhaps the greatest risk to hydropower is climate change itself. For example, due to the rising frequency of droughts, hydroelectric dams in places like California are becoming significantly less economical.

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