For the latest data on the world’s energy markets, organizations such as the IEA (International Energy Agency) and the EIA (Energy Information Administration) are crucial sources. Every year, investors and entire industries rely on their reporting on energy supply and demand, as well as their forecasts going forward.
However, these organizations tend to be better at some things than others. For example, in terms of summing up past and current data on what is going on in the world, they generally do a pretty good job. We referenced their numbers when we looked at the changing anatomy of U.S. oil imports, or when showing the decline in coal use over recent years.
In other situations, such as trying to extrapolate numbers on current trends or predicting the tipping point of technologies, things get a bit dicier. Forecasting the roll-out of solar, in particular, has proved to be a daunting challenge for these organizations over the years.
Global Solar Installations
Before we dive in, we should make one thing clear: it’s notoriously difficult to make these types of predictions, and we do not envy the position of these researchers in any sense.
That being said, as shown in this chart from Auke Hoekstra, forecasts for annual global solar installations by the IEA have been egregiously bad for over a decade.
Forecasts from the IEA are pulled from their World Energy Outlook (WEO) reports, which are published each year. Meanwhile, the “PV History” line above is the actual data for photovoltaic (PV) installations each year.
Again, it’s extremely difficult to make such forecasts, and these organizations tend to be conservative with their outlooks. However, it’s pretty evident that they’ve missed a pretty significant trend here.
U.S. Solar Installations
Maybe the U.S. government can do better?
Here’s a look at forecasts by the EIA for annual energy production from solar in the U.S. over many decades, courtesy of Steffen Christensen:
This one’s more interesting. Instead of counting out solar each and every year, the EIA has had changing attitudes towards solar over time.
The projection from 1979 seems to actually be the most accurate – but the ones from 1994-2011 skip any premise of a solar boom entirely. As we get closer to present day, forecasts get more accurate, but are still too conservative (2013, 2015).
Hindsight is 20/20
It’s easy for us to be armchair critics, but it is not fair to rag on these organizations too much.
Here’s the trend they missed that made all the difference:
Curious to see how other people have fared in making predictions on technology throughout history?
Here’s a timeline of failed tech predictions that will humble any forecaster.
Ranked: Countries with the Most Sustainable Energy Policies
Which countries are able to balance prosperity and sustainability in their energy mixes? See the 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:
|Rank||Country||Trilemma Score||Letter Grade*|
|4||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||81.5||AAA|
|10||🇳🇿 New Zealand||79.4||AAA|
|15||🇺🇸 United States||77.5||AAB|
|16||🇨🇿 Czech Republic||77.4||AAB|
|34||🇭🇰 Hong Kong (China)||72.5||DAB|
|37||🇰🇷 South Korea||71.7||BAC|
|38||🇨🇷 Costa Rica||71.6||CBA|
|62||🇸🇻 El Salvador||66.0||BCA|
|71||🇲🇰 North Macedonia||63.7||CBC|
|76||🇹🇹 Trinidad and Tobago||63.3||CAD|
|78||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||62.8||CAD|
|79||🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herz.||62.1||BBC|
|85||🇱🇰 Sri Lanka||60.1||BCB|
|92||🇿🇦 South Africa||58.9||DBD|
|97||🇩🇴 Dominican Republic||57.6||DBB|
|111||🇨🇮 Côte d’Ivoire||49.3||BDC|
*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.
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.
Ranked: The World’s Largest Energy Sources
As global population grows, our energy demand grows as well. Here are the largest energy sources in the world and how much electricity they generate.
The World’s Largest and Most Notable Energy Sources
Every day, humans consume roughly 63,300,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity to power our homes, workplaces, and vehicles─about the same produced by over 5,700 Hoover Dams.
While present-day electricity generation is slanted heavily in favor of coal and gas on a global basis, renewable sources have started to gain ground.
Today’s graphic from Information is Beautiful lists the world’s largest energy sources and their energy outputs. These power plants are ranked using the daily megawatt-hour (MWh), the amount of energy a power source generates in a day.
Relying on Renewables
Located in the United Kingdom, Drax Power Station is the world’s largest biomass plant, powered chiefly by burning wood. Originally a coal-fired plant, Drax is expected to fully phase out coal by the year 2025.
Meanwhile, Tengger Desert Solar Park in China was the biggest solar operation until 2018, but it has since been displaced by the Shakti Sthala plant in India. The latter uses only solar panels─no mirrors─to generate energy from the sun.
Overall, solar photovoltaics have experienced the highest growth of all energy source segments, showing 31% annual growth─nearly triple the rate of wind power according to the International Energy Association (IEA).
Currently, 27% of the world’s power comes from renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro, biomass, and other similar resources.
However, according to back-of-the-envelope calculations, the potential for renewables is far beyond existing generation capacity. In fact, humans are just using 0.81% of solar’s potential generation capacity, and 0.57% of the potential from wind.
|Potential Energy Generation Capacity||480,000,000 MWh||401,850,000 MWh||86,400,000 MWh||48,767,123 MWh|
|Energy Generated (Current)||3,884,983 MWh||2,304,000 MWh||11,465,753 MWh||201,761 MWh|
|% of Potential Used||0.81%||0.57%||13.3%||0.41%|
Non-renewable Energy Sources
Nuclear power plants have perhaps the strongest stigma against them─largely due to international disasters such as Chernobyl and Fukushima.
However, nuclear power plants are still the most efficient energy sources, sitting at over 90% average capacity.
The largest nuclear plant (by MW) in the world, Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, is currently shut down due to damage from a 2007 earthquake, and awaiting confirmation to restart operations. As a result, the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station in Canada now holds the title of the largest operating reactor in the world. The plant currently generates about 30% of Ontario’s power.
In 2018, coal is still being used to generate roughly 38% of the world’s total electricity, followed by natural gas with a 23% share.
The Future of Energy Potential
Fittingly, the graphic also shows daily energy outputs for Google and Bitcoin usage. This data helps remind us that our online activity also consumes energy─something that will be top of mind as technology continues to advance and humans need to use more energy through our internet-enabled devices.
Understanding humanity’s need for energy is a daunting endeavor, but it’s critical to ensuring our planet has a sustainable source of energy for generations to come.
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