The Race to 100%: Renewable Energy-Powered Countries

Crystal Zheng
December 11, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2018


Fig. 1: Iceland's Blue Lagoon Geothermal Power Plant. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Global population growth and rapidly growing living standards has led to extremely fast increase in global energy demand, which has grown increasingly faster than the global population growth rate. [1] In 2014, 80% of the world's total primary energy was being supplied by fossil fuels. [2] However, there have been increasing efforts in the form of policies and programs around the world to push for faster and greater adoption of renewable energy. In fact, the sustainable future scenario of International Energy Agency projected that 57% of the world's electricity would be provided by renewable energy sources by 2050. [2] In fact, by 2016, global investment in renewable energy outstripped investments in fossil fuels and more than half of the world's newly added power-generating capacity were renewable energy sources. [3] Renewable energy sources include hydroelectric, wind, solar, bioenergy, geothermal, tidal and wave energy. [4]


Iceland is the only developed nation today with approximately 100% of its energy production and 82-87% of its primary energy coming from renewable energy sources (see Fig. 1). [5] Its advantage in this race has been its unique natural resources, specifically its geothermal aquifers, abundance of hydropower, and its small population of only 0.3 million people. [6] During the 20th century, Iceland's strength in renewable energy has transformed it from one of Europe's poorest countries, dependant on imported coal and peat, to a country with a high standard of living.

Costa Rica

In 2015, Costa Rica was already close to reaching its 100% renewable energy target (98% total for the year) and had 94 consecutive days of the year where renewable energy covered the total electricity. [7] In 2016, renewable energy investment grew 31%. In 2017, Costa Rica set the world record for the most consecutive days for running electricity on renewable energy, with around 99% of its electricity produced with renewable resources. [8] It had established climate change mitigation initiatives and scenarios for its national plans, which led to national-level sustainable development and changes in national energy systems. Furthermore, the country aims to be carbon neutral by 2021. [7]


Uruguay used to be extremely vulnerable to changes in oil and fossil fuel prices because it does not have a lot of domestic fossil fuel resources. Thus, it has historically been very dependent on hydroelectric power, imported oil and electricity from its neighbors. [7] Over the past decade, Uruguay has made significant investments in renewable energy sources. Uruguay is now approximately 95% renewable electricity. [9] Uruguay's renewable energy stems largely from hydroelectric (60%) followed by wind, solar, and biofuels.

© Crystal Zheng. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] M. H. Hasan, T. M. I. Mahlia, and H. Nur, "A Review on Energy Scenario and Sustainable Energy in Indonesia," Renew. Sust. Energ. Rev. 16, 2316 (2012).

[2] M. A. Islam et al., "Global Renewable Energy-Based Electricity Generation and Smart Grid System for Energy Security," Sci. World J. 2014, 197136 (2014).

[3] R. Gold, "Global Investment in Wind and Solar Energy Is Outshining Fossil Fuels," Wall Street Journal, 11 Jun 18.

[4] P. A. Owusu and S. Asumadu-Sarkodie, "A Review of Renewable Energy Sources, Sustainability Issues and Climate Change Mitigation," Cogent Eng. 3, 1167990 (2016).

[5] H. Kristjánsdóttir, Sustainable Energy Resources and Economics in Iceland and Greenland (Springer International Publishing, 2015).

[6] B. P. Heard et al., "Burden of Proof: A Comprehensive Review of the Feasibility of 100% Renewable-Electricity Systems," Renew. Sust. Energ. Rev. 76, 1122 (2017).

[7] L. d. S. N. S. Barbosa et al., "Hydro, Wind and Solar Power As a Base for a 100% Renewable Energy Supply for South and Central America," PLoS One 12, 30173820 (2017).

[8] P. Rubio, "Reaching for a Zero-Emission Goal," New York Times, 21 Sep 18.

[9] T. W. Brown et al., "Response to 'Burden of Proof: A Comprehensive Review of the Feasibility of 100% Renewable-Electricity Systems'," Renew. Sust. Energ. Rev. 92, 834 (2018).