The Raw Materials That Fuel the Green Revolution
View the high resolution version of today’s graphic by clicking here.
Records for renewable energy consumption were smashed around the world in 2017.
Looking at national and state grids, progress has been extremely impressive. In Costa Rica, for example, renewable energy supplied five million people with all of their electricity needs for a stretch of 300 consecutive days. Meanwhile, the U.K. broke 13 green energy records in 2017 alone, and California’s largest grid operator announced it got 67.2% of its energy from renewables (excluding hydro) on May 13, 2017.
The corporate front is also looking promising, and Google has led the way by buying 536 MW of wind power to offset 100% of the company’s electricity usage. This makes the tech giant the biggest corporate purchaser of renewable energy on the planet.
But while these examples are plentiful, this progress is only the tip of the iceberg – and green energy still represents a small but rapidly growing segment. For a full green shift to occur, we’ll need to 10x what we’re currently sourcing from renewables.
To do this, we will need to procure massive amounts of natural resources – they just won’t be the fossil fuels that we’re used to.
Green Metals Required
Today’s infographic comes from Cambridge House as a part of the lead-up to their flagship conference, the Vancouver Resource Investment Conference 2018.
A major theme of the conference is sustainable energy – and the math indeed makes it clear that to fully transition to a green economy, we’ll need vast amounts of metals like copper, silicon, aluminum, lithium, cobalt, rare earths, and silver.
These metals and minerals are needed to generate, store, and distribute green energy. Without them, the reality is that technologies like solar panels, wind turbines, lithium-ion batteries, nuclear reactors, and electric vehicles are simply not possible.
How do you get a Tesla to drive over 300 miles (480 km) on just one charge?
Here’s what you need: a lightweight body, a powerful electric motor, a cutting-edge battery that can store energy efficiently, and a lot of engineering prowess.
Putting the engineering aside, all of these things need special metals to work. For the lightweight body, aluminum is being substituted in for steel. For the electric motor, Tesla is using AC induction motors (Model S and X) that require large amounts of copper and aluminum. Meanwhile, Chevy Bolts and soon Tesla will use permanent magnet motors (in the Model 3) that use rare earths like neodymium, dysprosium, and praseodymium.
The batteries, as we’ve shown in our five-part Battery Series, are a whole other supply chain challenge. The lithium-ion batteries used in EVs need lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite, and many other metals or minerals to function. Each Tesla battery, by the way, weighs about 1,200 lbs (540 kg) and makes up 25% the total mass of the car.
While EVs are a topic we’ve studied in depth, the same principles apply for solar panels, wind turbines, nuclear reactors, grid-scale energy storage solutions, or anything else we need to secure a sustainable future. Solar panels need silicon and silver, while wind turbines need rare earths, steel, and aluminum.
Even nuclear, which is the safest energy type by deaths per TWh and generates barely any emissions, needs uranium in order to generate power.
The Pace of Progress
The green revolution is happening at a breakneck speed – and new records will continue to be set each year.
Over $200 billion was invested into renewables in 2016, and more net renewable capacity was added than coal and gas put together:
|Power Type||Net Global Capacity Added (2016)|
|Renewable (excl. large hydro)||138 GW|
|Large hydro||15 GW|
|Other flexible capacity||5 GW|
The numbers suggest that this is the only start of the green revolution.
However, to fully work our way off of fossil fuels, we will need to procure large amounts of the metals that make sustainable energy possible.
Visualizing U.S. Crude Oil and Petroleum Product Imports in 2021
This visualization breaks down U.S. oil imports by country for 2021, showing the split by OPEC and non-OPEC nations.
U.S. Petroleum Product and Crude Oil Imports in 2021: Visualized
Energy independence is top of mind for many nations as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted sanctions and bans against Russian coal and crude oil imports.
Despite being the world’s largest oil producer, in 2021 the U.S. still imported more than 3 billion barrels of crude oil and petroleum products, equal to 43% of the country’s consumption.
This visualization uses data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) to compare U.S. crude oil and refined product imports with domestic crude oil production, and breaks down which countries the U.S. imported its oil from in 2021.
U.S. Crude Oil Imports, by Country
The U.S. imports more than 8 million barrels of petroleum products a day from other nations, making it the world’s second-largest importer of crude oil behind China.
America’s northern neighbor, Canada, is the largest source of petroleum imports at 1.58 billion barrels in 2021. These made up more than 51% of U.S. petroleum imports, and when counting only crude oil imports, Canada’s share rises to 62%.
|Rank||Country||U.S. Oil Imports (2021, in barrels)||Share|
|#1||🇨🇦 Canada||1,584 million||51.3%|
|#2||🇲🇽 Mexico||259 million||8.4%|
|#3||🇷🇺 Russia||254 million||7.9%|
|#4||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||156 million||5.1%|
|#5||🇨🇴 Colombia||74 million||2.4%|
|#6||🇪🇨 Ecuador||61 million||2.0%|
|#7||🇮🇶 Iraq||57 million||1.9%|
|#8||🇧🇷 Brazil||52 million||1.7%|
|#9||🇰🇷 South Korea||48 million||1.6%|
|#10||🇳🇱 Netherlands||46 million||1.5%|
|#11||🇳🇬 Nigeria||45 million||1.5%|
|Other countries||459 million||14.7%|
The second-largest contributor to U.S. petroleum imports was another neighbor, Mexico, with 259 million barrels imported in 2021—making up a bit more than 8% of U.S. petroleum imports.
Russia was the third-largest exporter of crude oil and petroleum products to the U.S. in 2021, with their 254 million barrels accounting for almost 8% of total imports.
U.S. Crude Oil and Petroleum Imports from OPEC and OPEC+
Only about 11% of U.S. crude oil and petroleum product imports come from OPEC nations, with another 16.3% coming from OPEC+ members.
While imports from OPEC and OPEC+ members make up more than a quarter of America’s total petroleum imports, this share is fairly small when considering OPEC members currently control nearly 80% of the world’s oil reserves.
Which Countries are Part of OPEC and OPEC-Plus?
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is a group of 13 petroleum producing nations that formed in 1960 to provide steady prices and supply distribution of crude oil and petroleum products.
In 2016, OPEC-plus was formed with additional oil-exporting nations in order to better control global oil supply and markets in response to a deluge of U.S. shale supply hitting the markets at that time.
- 🇮🇷 Iran*
- 🇮🇶 Iraq*
- 🇰🇼 Kuwait*
- 🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia*
- 🇻🇪 Venezuela*
- 🇩🇿 Algeria
- 🇦🇴 Angola
- 🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea
- 🇬🇦 Gabon
- 🇱🇾 Libya
- 🇳🇬 Nigeria
- 🇨🇩 Republic of the Congo
- 🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates
* Founding members
- 🇷🇺 Russia
- 🇲🇽 Mexico
- 🇰🇿 Kazakhstan
- 🇲🇾 Malaysia
- 🇦🇿 Azerbaijan
- 🇧🇭 Bahrain
- 🇧🇳 Brunei
- 🇴🇲 Oman
- 🇸🇩 Sudan
- 🇸🇸 South Sudan
Although OPEC and OPEC+ members supply a significant part of U.S. crude oil and petroleum imports, America has avoided overdependence on the group by instead building strong ties with neighboring exporters Canada and Mexico.
Crude Oil Imports Capitalize on U.S. Refineries
While the U.S. has been a net exporter of crude oil and petroleum products the past two years, exporting 3.15 billion barrels while importing 3.09 billion barrels in 2021, crude oil-only trade tells a different story.
In terms of just crude oil trade, the U.S. was a significant net importer, with 2.23 billion barrels of crude oil imports and only 1.08 billion barrels of crude oil exports. But with the U.S. being the world’s largest crude oil producer, why is this?
As noted earlier, neighboring Canada makes up larger shares of U.S. crude oil imports compared to crude oil and petroleum product imports. Similarly, Mexico reaches 10% of America’s crude oil imports when excluding petroleum products.
Maximizing imports from neighboring countries makes sense on multiple fronts for all parties due to lower transportation costs and risks, and it’s no surprise Canada and Mexico are providing large shares of just crude oil as well. With such a large collection of oil refineries across the border, it’s ultimately more cost-efficient for Canada and Mexico to tap into U.S. oil refining rather than refining domestically.
In turn, Mexico is the largest importer of U.S. produced gasoline and diesel fuel, and Canada is the third-largest importer of American-produced refined petroleum products.
Replacing Russian Crude Oil Imports
While Russia only makes up 8% of American petroleum product imports, their 254 million barrels will need to be replaced as both countries ceased trading soon after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In an effort to curb rising oil and gasoline prices, in March President Joe Biden announced the release of up to 180 million barrels from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserves. Other IEA nations are also releasing emergency oil reserves in an attempt to curb rising prices at the pump and volatility in the oil market.
While the U.S. and the rest of the world are still managing the short-term solutions to this oil supply gap, the long-term solution is complex and has various moving parts. From ramping up domestic oil production to replacing oil demand with other cleaner energy solutions, oil trade and imports will remain a vital part of America’s energy supply.
Mapped: Solar and Wind Power by Country
Wind and solar make up 10% of the world’s electricity. Combined, they are the fourth-largest source of electricity after coal, gas, and hydro.
Mapped: Solar and Wind Power by Country
Wind and solar generate over a tenth of the world’s electricity. Taken together, they are the fourth-largest source of electricity, behind coal, gas, and hydro.
This infographic based on data from Ember shows the rise of electricity from these two clean sources over the last decade.
Europe Leads in Wind and Solar
Wind and solar generated 10.3% of global electricity for the first time in 2021, rising from 9.3% in 2020, and doubling their share compared to 2015 when the Paris Climate Agreement was signed.
In fact, 50 countries (26%) generated over a tenth of their electricity from wind and solar in 2021, with seven countries hitting this landmark for the first time: China, Japan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Argentina, Hungary, and El Salvador.
Denmark and Uruguay achieved 52% and 47% respectively, leading the way in technology for high renewable grid integration.
|Rank||Top Countries||Solar/Wind Power Share|
|#10||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||25.2%|
From a regional perspective, Europe leads with nine of the top 10 countries. On the flipside, the Middle East and Africa have the fewest countries reaching the 10% threshold.
Further Renewables Growth Needed to meet Global Climate Goals
The electricity sector was the highest greenhouse gas emitting sector in 2020.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the sector needs to hit net zero globally by 2040 to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goals of limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees. And to hit that goal, wind and solar power need to grow at nearly a 20% clip each year to 2030.
Despite the record rise in renewables, solar and wind electricity generation growth currently doesn’t meet the required marks to reach the Paris Agreement’s goals.
In fact, when the world faced an unprecedented surge in electricity demand in 2021, only 29% of the global rise in electricity demand was met with solar and wind.
Even as emissions from the electricity sector are at an all-time high, there are signs that the global electricity transition is underway.
Governments like the U.S., Germany, UK, and Canada are planning to increase their share of clean electricity within the next decade and a half. Investments are also coming from the private sector, with companies like Amazon and Apple extending their positions on renewable energy to become some of the biggest buyers overall.
More wind and solar are being added to grids than ever, with renewables expected to provide the majority of clean electricity needed to phase out fossil fuels.
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