Mapping Energy Stats

July 31, 2019
Marissa Wood

I have unfortunately been stuck on a pretty mundane data updating project for the past month. It involves downloading various tables full of numbers and bringing a world choropleth map from 2012 to 2016 statistics (plus or minus a few years depending on the dataset). For the most part it’s been mind numbingly boring, but every once in a while I come across a dataset that catches my interest, mostly in terms of how much a statistic has changed in the past four or five years.

Since mapping obesity changes in the United States is too depressing (yeah, it’s bad), I thought it might be fun to play with some energy statistics which reveal the global push towards more renewable energy generation over the past four years. The US Energy Information Administration publishes a series of US and international datasets tracking methods of electricity production across multiple years, going as far back as 1980 for some variables. They have a “beta” data and map portal from which different charts can be downloaded. (I say “beta” because it’s been in “beta” form for the past few years…)

To set the stage, let’s look at total energy production, both from renewables and non-renewables for 2016. China, US, India, and Russia are the biggest producers. No surprises there and no real changes in the last four years aside from a 10% increase in total electricity production world wide.

2016 Total worldwide electricity generation in billions of Kilowatt hours per country.

But as you break the data down into its components, the push for electricity generation by renewable resources becomes visible. The major renewable components tracked by the EIA are wind power, hydroelectric generation, and solar power (data on geothermal, wave, and biomass energy production area also available).


Humans have been using the wind as a source of energy for thousands and thousands of years and converting wind power to electricity started in the 1800s. The technology has changed a lot over 7,000 some odd years, with modern wind farms being massive collections of giant wind turbines. They have their own environmental, political, and economic connotations, but facing a wind turbine close up or from afar is awe inspiring.

In 2012 only 2% of the world’s electricity generation came from wind power, and by 2016 that figure doubled and will continue to climb into the future as more countries invest in wind power. In 2016, China was the largest producer of wind power at 237 billion kilowatt hours (Kwh), but that only accounts for 4% of China’s total electricity generation. The US was a close second in producing electricity from wind power at 227 billion Kwh, but again that only counts for 5% of its total. Denmark had the largest percentage of the total electricity generation being from wind at 42%, followed closely by Lithuania at 36%.

2016 Total worldwide electricity generation from wind power.
Electricity generation from wind as a percentage of all electricity generation. Antarctica is at 100%. Go Antarctica!


People have been using water as a source of power for not quite as long as they’ve been using wind (going back to the ancient Greeks rather than ancient Egyptians), but hydropower has been a pillar of electricity generation since the beginning. Niagara Falls was recognized as an epic source of energy even as Edison and Tesla were duking it out over DC and AC power in the 1890s (Tesla would eventually win).

Because hydropower has been almost ubiquitous with electricity generation from the start, its use has remained constant from 2012 to 2016 at 17% of total energy production. China is the biggest producer of hydroelectricity at 1,151 billion Kwh. Many states rely on hydropower for almost all of their electricity generation: Lesotho at 100%, Paraguay at 99.999%, and Albania at 99.9%, to name a few.

2016 Total worldwide electricity generation from hydropower.
Electricity generation from hydropower as a percentage of all electricity generation.

Fire (okay fine, Sun)

Aside from the total dependence of all life on the sun for all time, humans have been directly converting solar energy into power for only a few hundred years. It is the most recent of the renewable energy technologies, and solar panels (and tiles and roads and etc.) have become more widely available and cheaper in the last few decades.

Solar still makes up only a small percentage of the world’s total electricity production at only 1% in 2016. In 2012 several European nations were early adopters of producing electricity from solar: Germany, followed by Italy and Spain. However, by 2016, China again takes the lead, now followed by the US and Japan. By percent of total electricity production, Luxembourg generates the most solar at 30% followed by Kiribati and Malta.

2016 Total worldwide electricity generation from solar power.
Electricity generation from solar power as a percentage of all electricity generation. It is amusing to no end that the scale of this map renders the top three countries (Luxembourg, Kiribati, and Malta) invisible.

Renewables are only a small piece of the energy puzzle, but their increase in use over the past four years reflects human efforts to alleviate the climate risks of fossil fuel use through technology improvements. It seems like that over the next four years, wind and solar power for electricity generation will continue to grow.

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