Energy supply is a major issue in all countries of the world. All countries have different conditions and each country balances needs, costs and the large environmental impact of large-scale electricity generation.
Across the globe, 26,672 TWh of electricity was produced in 2018. Coal combustion is the method most commonly used and accounts for 38 percent of all electricity generation. China by far consumes most coal. In Europe and North America the use of coal is decreasing, but in these countries gas combustion is increasing instead. The gas accounts for 23 percent of the world’s electricity generation.
Diagram of energy sources in electricity generation.
ENERGY. This is how electricity is created in the world.
For those countries that have the natural conditions, hydropower is important, here Sweden belongs. On a global level, hydropower generates 19 percent of all electricity. Nuclear power accounts for 10 percent. Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are growing in importance, but so far they provide only 7 percent of the electricity produced.
Our appetite for electricity is only growing and electricity consumption is increasing every year. Although fossil-free electricity production is also rising, it is not happening all over the world and therefore the total fossil combustion is increasing year by year. The carbon dioxide from this combustion affects the climate and causes global warming which can have severe consequences.
To counteract this, a large number of countries have signed the so-called Kyoto Protocol, which means that they undertake to reduce their emissions, or pay for emissions reductions in other countries. In Europe, carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector have decreased, but in the rest of the world it is increasing.
Electricity use in the world
Just looking at which countries get rid of the most electricity is not entirely true. Other aspects of electricity consumption should also be compared.
Electricity consumption per person. Iceland has by far the highest electricity consumption per person. This is because the good availability of renewable geothermal energy makes electricity cheap in Iceland and attracts industries that need a lot of electricity, such as aluminum factories and server halls. Several oil countries also have a very high consumption per person, such as Qatar and Kuwait. Sweden is roughly at the US level in electricity consumption per capita and a Swedish consumes three times as much electricity as a Chinese.
The climate. The Nordic countries consume significantly more electricity per person than southern Europe, which is largely due to the fact that a lot of electricity is needed for heating during the winters. The fact that several desert countries in the Arabian Peninsula are also very high in electricity consumption per capita is due to the widespread use of air conditioning for cooling during the summers.
Energy type. The fact that Norway’s electricity to almost 100 percent is renewable from hydropower should be taken into account when comparing electricity consumption in Kuwait, which to almost 100 percent is fossil from gas and oil.
Carbon dioxide. The climate-damaging carbon dioxide emissions vary widely across the world. Sweden is among the major consumers of electricity in the world, but is below the world average in carbon dioxide emissions, as electricity production is almost completely fossil-free. China emits twice as much carbon dioxide as the United States. But per person, you emit half as much. Canada and Australia emit more carbon dioxide per person than the United States.
Electricity consumption in different countries
This is how electricity use looks in the Nordic countries and some of the world’s largest nations.
Sweden has a very low proportion of fossil fuels in electricity generation compared to other countries. This is because they have good natural conditions for hydropower and the decision to invest in nuclear power. Hydropower accounts for 40 percent of Sweden’s electricity generation. The three nuclear power plants also account for 40 per cent, wind power for 11 per cent and cogeneration plants that are largely fired with renewable biofuels account for the remaining 9 per cent.
The control room in Olidan’s power plant
WATER POWER IMPORTANT IN SWEDEN. The control room for Olidan’s hydroelectric plant in Trollhättan, which was built in 1905.
Norway, Denmark, Finland
Because of their geographically different locations, our neighboring countries have found different solutions to meet their energy needs.
In Norway, it is natural that most of the power comes from hydropower. The share is as much as 96 percent.
In Denmark, they have become experts in wind power. In 2017, 42 percent of the electricity came from the country’s many wind turbines, which is the most in the world. The other energy comes from coal, gas and biofuels.
Neither Norway nor Denmark has nuclear power plants. By contrast, unlike many other countries, Finland has also chosen to invest in nuclear power and build new reactors. Today, nuclear power accounts for 30 percent of electricity supply, but that figure is expected to increase to 60 percent in the 2020s. Finland also has a relatively high proportion of renewable electricity generation through the combustion of forest raw materials.
France and Germany are two European neighboring countries that have a lot in common. Yet their energy production is extremely different. France invested in nuclear power early and over 70 percent of the electricity comes from 58 nuclear power plants. Less than ten percent of electricity comes from fossil fuels.
Germany’s energy production rests on the lignite, which accounts for 35 percent of the electricity. In the past, nuclear power accounted for 25 percent, but after a number of political decisions, nuclear power is about to be decommissioned in Germany. A major investment in renewable energy has been initiated to replace nuclear power and coal. In 2018, 35 percent of electricity was generated from renewable sources.
The United States is the world’s largest economy and a major consumer of energy. Gas combustion is the largest source of electricity in the United States. New methods for bringing up so-called shale gas have made the country self-sufficient.
The US is also big on nuclear power. It produces 30 percent of all nuclear power in the world, and that is enough for 20 percent of the country’s electricity generation. The wind turbines are becoming increasingly significant and in 2018 the wind accounted for 6.6 percent of electricity generation in the US.
China is the most energy-efficient country in the world. The country emits by far the most carbon dioxide and the combustion of coal is greater than in all other countries together. However, they also top the league in terms of renewable energy sources and invest heavily in solar and wind power.
Russia has large assets on gas and almost half of the electricity comes from gas-fired power plants. They also export a lot of gas for, for example, Europe’s electricity generation. Hydropower, nuclear power and coal account for 18 per cent of the remaining production. Hardly any of the electricity produced in Russia comes from wind or sun.