When the topic of renewable energy adoption comes up, a handful of countries typically dominate the conversation. Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and the like are often held in high regard for their great leaps and bounds down the path towards net zero emissions. While it’s true that these countries are largely leading the charge against greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, there are several other countries quietly making significant strides in this field. These underrated countries are not only embracing renewable energy but they are also serving as inspiring examples for the rest of the world.
Below is a look at eight underrated renewable energy leaders:
Our list starts with Morocco not so much for the amount of renewable energy produced, but for its zeal for a shift to renewable resources. Unlike many North African countries, Morocco is not oil-rich and has to rely on external energy to meet its needs. In 2022, 90% of the country’s energy was imported. With rising gas costs, Morocco needs renewable energy in order to become more self-sufficient.
Of the country’s energy mix, a little less than 40% is renewable energy. The Moroccan government is prepared to bring this number up to 52% by 2030. The bulk of Morocco’s renewable energy mix comes from wind energy. Hydro and solar are close behind. Morocco is home to the world’s largest concentrated solar plant: the Noor Power Plant in the Sahara Desert.
In the race towards net zero emissions, India is attempting to sprint towards the finish line. Not only is it the fifth largest employer of renewable energy workers (coming in behind the US and the EU), but, since 2014, its installed non-fossil fuel capacity has increased by 396% to 179.57 GW, nearly 42% of the country’s total capacity. During this same time period, installed solar energy has increased 30 times (reaching 73.31 GW in 2023) and wind energy nearly doubled to 44.73 GW.
Home to the largest solar power plant in the world Bhadla Solar Park, India started 2024 by officially launching the National Green Hydrogen Mission. This project aims to develop a green hydrogen production capacity of at least 5 MMT per year. The goal is that, by 2030, about 125 GW of additional renewable energy capacity will be added and that annual greenhouse gas emissions will drop by 50 MMT. The government has pledged the equivalent of €62 billion towards this mission.
Kenya has emerged as a beacon of renewable energy development in Africa, leveraging its abundant natural resources to drive economic growth and address energy access challenges. The coastal country is a global leader in geothermal energy, tapping into the East African Rift Valley's volcanic activity to produce clean and reliable electricity. In 2022, 88% of Kenya’s energy generation came from renewable sources, nearly 50% of which was made from geothermal power. The rest came from hydro, solar, bioenergy and wind. Totaled, the sustainable energy mix provided nearly 13,000 GW hours of electricity.
Lake Turkana Wind Power Project, Africa’s largest wind farm, supplies energy to Kenya’s national grid. The farm has a capacity of 310 MW – enough to power one million homes. Given the country’s propensity for large swaths of sunshine, solar energy use is also increasing. Since 2012, more and more Kenyans have been turning to PVs for both accessibility and affordability. Solar energy saw another surge in interest in 2023, again driven largely by cost and access (many remote areas in Kenya are not connected to the national grid).
Brazil comes in at No. 5 on this list because it is a global leader in renewable energy production, primarily in hydropower. Its vast network of rivers provides a significant portion of its electricity. It has also made substantial investments in wind and solar energy, capitalizing on its extensive coastlines and sunny climate. Wind farms are sprouting up across the country, particularly in the northeast region, while solar installations are increasingly common in urban areas.
With 50% of its energy matrix and 88% of its electric matrix being clean, Brazil’s electricity sector is one of the least carbon-intensive in the world. The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that the country will be responsible for nearly 40% of global biofuels expansion by 2028. The production of solar photovoltaic (PV) and onshore wind farms are also expected to double within this same time period.
Unlike some of the countries on this list, Albania’s position as a renewable energy leader may not come as a total surprise. The Eastern European country has long been ranked among the top most sustainable countries. Hydro is the dominant energy source, accounting for 95% of the country’s generating capacity.
Although the Southeastern European country has had a lot of success with hydro energy, the intermittent rainfall caused by climate change threatens to impact that. To combat this and keep using mostly renewable energy, Albania has started to boost its solar and wind potential. In 2023, the country installed 235,000 new solar panels on the edge of the coastal Karavasta Lagoon National Park. When connected to the national power grid, this solar farm will generate 140 MW of electricity to thousands of homes. With an average 300 days of sunshine per year, solar may be the new way forward for the Balkan country.
3. Costa Rica
Costa Rica holds the champion title for the most consecutive days run on renewables: 300 (in 2018). Around 98% of the Central American country’s electricity has come from sustainable energy since 2014. They use a combination of hydro, geothermal, wind, biomass and solar power to accomplish this. Some years, Costa Rica produces so much clean energy that they give the excess to their neighbors.
Despite its strong start, Costa Rica has stumbled recently on its path to net zero carbon emissions. Decreased rainfall effects from El Niño and sporadic wind patterns have led to a decrease in wind and hydro energy. Experts predict that the country’s renewable energy production could therefore drop from 98 to 93% by 2025. To meet its energy needs, Costa Rica may even have to activate many of its thermal plants. A smart grid system and dynamic energy management system could be key to avoiding or lessening this scenario.
Small and mighty, Scotland is a pioneer in renewable energy utilization, making great use of its abundant wind, hydro and tidal energy potential. Hydroelectric plants use the coastal country’s many rivers and reservoirs, while innovative tidal energy projects tap into the power of the sea. The renewable energy sector is one of the country’s largest industries, employing over 25,000 people (about 1% of the working population).
In 2022, over 90% of Scotland’s electricity was generated from renewable energy sources. The country broke its previous records and produced 35.3 TWh of renewable electricity – the equivalent of powering every Scottish household for more than three years. In September 2023, renewable energy generation increased to 6,868 GWh, a 9% increase compared to the previous year.
Scotland is particularly well-suited for offshore wind energy and is home to two of the largest offshore wind projects in the world: the 950MW Moray East project and the 1,075MW Seagreen project. Seagreen also has the world’s deepest offshore wind foundation, fixed at 58.7 meters below sea level. The project has the capacity to displace two million tonnes of annual CO2 from electricity generated by fossil fuels.
Coming in at number one is another small yet mighty European country: Portugal! This Iberian country has long been a quiet frontrunner in Europe’s clean energy race. When most other EU countries set the goal to be “net zero” by 2050, Portugal set their target to 2047, and it currently looks poised to reach the milestone even earlier: 2045. The country even closed down its last coal plant in 2021, nine years ahead of its own self-imposed 2030 target. They now plan to phase out gas plants by 2040.
Portugal has one of the highest renewable energy ratios in Europe. In 2023, renewable power sources provided 61% of the coastal country’s electricity, up 49% from 2022. This was thanks largely to heavy periods of rain, strong winds and long stretches of sunshine. Portugal also made headlines in 2023 when it ran entirely on renewable energy for six days. According to the national grid operator, Redes Energéticas Nacionais, a mix of wind, solar and hydro sources produced 1,102 GWh of energy for both industrial and residential use. The trial period produced so much power that excess clean energy was exported to Spain.
Taking countries from underrated to top-rated
As we’ve seen, countries of all sizes in all regions of the globe can emerge as renewable energy leaders. The first step is using what resources lie at their disposal. Then, to advance from an accelerator to a leader, and for all countries to reach similar successes, the next step is making renewables smart. Even when countries have made advancements, the intermittency of renewables means that this progress can quickly be put in jeopardy by uncontrollable circumstances (e.g. as seen in Costa Rica). As all countries move towards a 100% renewable energy system, the key to constant energy security lies in the integration of flexibility into the system.
To balance supply and demand, intelligently use storage and prepare for fluctuating weather, prices or demand, smart and holistic energy management is needed. Rather than only relying on large-scale power plants, countries must also unlock the potential of small-scale flexibility by using power sources, such as rooftop solar, that are being installed at an increasing rate anyway. In short: it’s all about balance, optimization and intelligently using the resources at your disposal. That’s what can blast a country from an underrated renewable energy player to a leader of the pack.