Where in the World Is Renewable Energy Used the Most?

In this clip from Industry Focus: Energy, Motley Fool energy analysts Sean O'Reilly and Taylor Muckerman discuss the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21stCentury's global status report for renewable energy in 2015.

Listen in to find out just how massively China is invested in renewable energy generation over the next five years, why biomass energy use is growing so quickly, which countries around the world are invested the most heavily in green power, why oil giant Saudi Arabia is planning to pour tens of billions of dollars into renewable energy by 2023, and more.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This podcast was recorded on Feb. 2, 2017.

Sean O'Reilly: I wanted to quickly go down a list. This is enormous. There's a group called the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century. They, every year, put out a report on the global status report of renewable energy. You can go to ren21.net and check it out. They do this every June, so we have last June's report, and it mostly covers 2015. But anecdotally, this sort of thing doesn't get changed a lot. This thing is pages and pages long! All right, let's do a quiz. Where do you think --

Taylor Muckerman: Oh, I have the list right in front of me.

O'Reilly: Oh, you do?

Muckerman: Yeah. I can't cheat on air.

O'Reilly: Shut your computer!

Muckerman: I've seen it; it's too late.

O'Reilly: All right, fine.

Muckerman: We can quiz our listeners. Give them five seconds to guess.

O'Reilly: All right, our listeners can check this out. Google "2016 report."

Muckerman: Sorry. I ruined it. You sent it to me.

O'Reilly: I'm not going to forget this. No, I did. What stuck out to you there? You have China beating us for investment in renewable fuels --

Muckerman: And total capacity or generation as of the end of 2015 for all renewable power. That's only set to accelerate, I think, you're looking at China expected to, according to Reuters, plow $361 billion into renewable-energy power generation by 2020 -- $361 billion. That will create 13 million jobs, they estimate. And that's just over a five-year period, from 2016 to 2020.

O'Reilly: The per-capita numbers were hilarious to me. Investment in renewable power and fuel per unit of GDP, No. 1 was Mauritania, then Honduras, Uruguay, Morocco, and Jamaica. Renewable power capacity per capita, No. 1 is of course Denmark, Germany, Sweden. But, dollar for dollar, it's pretty much us, China, Germany, a little Japan and the U.K. in there.

Muckerman: Yeah, Japan is No. 3 in terms of investment in 2015. Then the U.K., and then India.

O'Reilly: Which is not surprising, because they had the nuclear problem, they have no natural resources, they don't have oil, so it's like, what are we going to do here?

Muckerman: Makes total sense, and they're surrounded by ocean.

O'Reilly: A little tricky there. I was surprised by how big biomass energy is. Is that the landfills, and it has methane burning it --

Muckerman: Yeah, the waste, heat, things like that.

O'Reilly: I was surprised by how big that was.

Muckerman: Yeah, not too shabby. A decent amount. If you think about how much we actually do waste, it's smart to use it.

O'Reilly: Yeah. It's physics. This is just energy; it's like wind. These things happen.

Muckerman: Energy can never be created or destroyed.

O'Reilly: Oh, man. That's very Zen of you.

Muckerman: Isn't that something that they say in physics?

O'Reilly: Yeah. All right, let's dive in here to a few unique interesting situations. Saudi Arabia. They obviously have a ton of sunlight, but...

Muckerman: What are they well known for, besides sunlight?

O'Reilly: Oh, I don't know, maybe they're known for going out into the desert and sticking a straw in the sand and getting oil.

Muckerman: And they are expected to dump between $30 [billion] and $50 billion into major renewable energy by 2023. So not nearly on the same level as China, but still.

O'Reilly: Well, what was the Saudi Aramco, the oil company that might be IPO'ing in a year or two, they're talking about dabbling in it a little bit, I saw this morning.

Muckerman: Maybe $5 billion in renewable-energy deals, yeah. They've asked HSBC, [ JPMorgan Chase], and Credit Suisseto go out there and try to find some companies that they might be able to buy with $5 billion of cash lying around.

O'Reilly: What do you think Saudi Arabia is thinking? I see a couple possibilities, or maybe it's all of them. Is this, we need to shift away from oil because someday we're not going to be able to use it?

Muckerman: Yeah, I think the last couple years was a gut check for them, because oil provides a pretty decent amount of subsidies for the social programs they have. So they've been losing out on a lot of that revenue. So they're trying to at least internally reduce their demand on oil.

O'Reilly: So they can sell more oil?

Muckerman: Yeah, I think that probably has something to do with it. Also, they powered their country with oil.

O'Reilly: I was about to say, they are one of the few countries that burns oil for their electricity grid.

Muckerman: Yeah. So if they can make electricity cheaper, then why not? They're looking to grow up to about 30% of their power from low-carbon sources by 2030. Right now, they have about 10 gigawatts of power from wind, solar, and nuclear.

O'Reilly: Sweet. I have to think they're trying to play catch-up with the UAE [United Arab Emirates], too. They've been doing a lot with solar.

Muckerman: I mean, they're right there -- it's the desert; they have plenty of sun right along the equator.

O'Reilly: Yeah, exactly. What else stuck out to you as you looked around the globe? As I mentioned, I'm optimistic about Africa because installing the transmission lines for traditional centralized power like we have, like a natural gas-burning power plant or something, it's a little bit of a hassle.

Muckerman: Well, if you think about it in terms of what they have done with telephones, for example. They've pretty much skipped land lines and went right to cellphones. So if you think about it, it's a similar situation. You have a cellphone tower rather than telephone lines crisscrossing the country. You can liken a cellphone tower to a solar grid, because they can be placed sporadically around the country and distributed in the regions where they're needed. So I think that's probably what's going to happen. It's just going to skip traditional power generation and go straight to renewable, more regional distribution, as needed.

O'Reilly: It almost seems like renewables are the best thing that ever happened for developing nations. I mean, that's pretty darn useful.

Muckerman: Now that it's cost-effective, yeah. Beforehand, they were just kind of waiting on it. Companies want to invest. Foreign direct investment is a big thing in this world. I don't know if it's going to be African companies that are building these solar and wind and hydroelectric power plants, but somebody is going to do it because there's money to be made.

Sean O'Reilly has no position in any stocks mentioned. Taylor Muckerman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.