Clean energy is now a viable alternative to hydrocarbon fuels, encouraging governments to invest billions of dollars in hydroelectric, photovoltaic, and wind plants each year.
But investors are largely getting involved not out of the goodness of their hearts but because the renewables industry—particularly solar power—is now past the “profitability threshold."
Thanks to years of research and development work that is now bearing fruit, the price of manufacturing and installing photovoltaic panels has been dropping over the past 20 years, reaching USD2 per Watt of capacity in 2019 in the US.
The US Department of Energy is trying to reduce the figure to under USD1 per watt by 2020.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) is confident that solar power is the future of the global energy market. The agency forecasted in 2014 that by 2050 solar power will be our primary source of electricity, accounting for some 11-16% of the world's consumption.
Growth in the use of solar power has gathered such momentum that in 2017, “the world installed 98GW of new solar power projects, more than the net additions of coal, gas, and nuclear plants put together," according to a 2018 report by Frankfurt School of Finance & Management.
Countries are investing in the renewable resources that best suit their climates; wind turbines have become a common sight in the Netherlands and Denmark, for instance, whereas photovoltaic farms are mainly associated with tropical lands.
All of this, is raising the likelihood of IEA's 2014 prediction coming to pass—perhaps even much earlier than the year 2050.
As Europe's market leader in green energy with the ambitious goal of producing 65% of the national grid's demand from renewable sources by 2030, Germany continues to invest in offshore and onshore windfarms as well as its photovoltaic capacity.
Although investments in renewables showed a 52% decline in 2018—due to market saturation and regulatory changes—the country still invested over USD6.3 billion in renewables, according to UN Environment.
Svenja Schulze, the federal Minister for the Environment, has promised that within a decade, the share of renewable sources in the generation of electrical power will grow to two-thirds.
India invested some USD11 billion in renewable energy in 2018, with solar alone receiving USD6.5-7 billion of the funds—which is not surprising given the fair share of sunshine that India receives around the year.
If present trends are anything to go by, the country's nominal capacity will exceed 175GW by 2022, which is exactly the amount that India's draft National Energy Plan has specified.
India is currently engaged in a fight against environmental hazards in its populous cities which are caused by coal-fired electricity plants and the nation's aging fleet of vehicles.
India, therefore, will not add any new coal-fired plants once those under construction are completed.
Meanwhile, the country's automakers, including Tata Motors, are contemplating possible designs for an affordable electric car to take over the market by 2030.
Japanese tech companies were producing solar-powered novelty gadgets as early as the 1980s, including digital wristwatches that appealed to the fashion-conscious youth of the period.
The use of solar power in Japan, however, is not limited to fancy watches these days. Japan is now home to facilities such as the Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar Power Plant, and the country spent some USD17.6 billion in 2018 to expand them, according to Bloomberg NEF.
Japan became more invested in clean energies after the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011, which highlighted the huge downsides of nuclear plants. While before the incident the total contribution of renewables to the national grid was just under 10%, the figure had risen to 14% by 2015.
2. United States
There is no denying that the current administration in the US is not a big believer in renewables, but this may not matter as the private sector continues to drive the renewables industry forward.
In any case, the joint investment of the public and private sector in renewables amounted to over USD42.8 billion in 2018, says the UN Environment.
According to the US Energy Information Administration, the country's nominal capacity for the generation of clean energy will match its nuclear capacity by 2020 and its coal-fired capacity by 2040.
China tops the list with over USD88 billion of investment in 2018, and is planning to invest another USD360 billion by 2020 and USD780 billion by 2030.
A populous nation with a thriving industry and an emerging middle class, China needs more energy than any other nation on the planet.
As coal-fired power plants have already drowned many industrial cities of China in smog, transitioning to clean energy is a necessity for the Asian economic power.
There is also a long list of countries which are fully committed to renewables, but could not possibly make it to the top five given their size and population.
Sweden has decided to phase out the use of fossil fuels for electricity generation by 2040. Costa Rica and Uruguay are very close to accomplishing that feat, as over 95% of their grids is fed by solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal plants.
Morocco is also heading in that direction. The world's largest concentrated solar plant is under construction in Ouarzazate, which upon coming into service, will satisfy 50% of the country's need for electrical power.