Winners of the 2016 Energy Olympics

Wind turbines in Freiburg, Germany. Photo credit: Rachel Crump
Wind turbines in Freiburg, Germany. Photo credit: Rachel Crump

It’s anybody’s game at this year’s summer Olympics in Brazil. The fastest, strongest, and hardest working teams will prevail. But when it comes to renewable energy development, which country is the real winner?

The best policies, dedication to future goals, and percent renewable energy production show who will come home with a medal. See which country stands on the podium and takes the gold when it comes to production of clean energy.

Solar  Energy

Gold- Germany

Years ago, the German government paved the way for Germany to sweep the competition in solar energy. The government’s choice to subsidize solar power through a feed-in tariff mechanism has resulted in wide participation in the solar market.

“One of the motivating factors is their fear of nuclear power,” said David Salvesen, a Research Associate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

This summer he led a group of students through Germany to study sustainable energy.

“Following the disasters in Fukishima and Chernobyl they redoubled their efforts to move away from nuclear and they moved their efforts towards renewables,” he said.

Salvesen said that Germany’s financial model is another reason they have been so successful.

Silver- China

China is taking a different approach than Germany. China has erected large solar farms, instead of small scale solar installations. Predictions for the 2020 Olympics show that China could take the gold, with plans to generate up to 200 gigawatts by then.

Bronze- Japan

Japan comes sliding into third by getting bonus points for creative ways to incorporate solar. They needed to get creative because they do not have nearly as much available land as China.

Floating solar islands are Japan’s solution to staying committed to renewable energy. Japan is the country to watch, with a goal of reaching 100 percent energy by renewables by 2040.

Wind Energy

Gold- Denmark

Leading the race in wind energy is this small country located between the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. Denmark just set the world record for highest percentage of energy through wind power. More than 40% of the country’s energy supply is attributed to wind.

“There are multiple reasons and perspectives of why and how Denmark has been so successful in the wind energy development.” said Silvestra Valčiukaité, the president of Energy Crossroads, a non-profit in Denmark that promotes sustainable energy.

“Denmark serves as a great example of how it historically tackled energy security issues and how it became a first mover in the industry,” Valčiukaité said. “Of course, favorable political and economic conditions and being first in a market helped to establish different companies in the supply chain.”

Silver- China

China over took the whole EU for total installed wind capacity. They receive the silver medal because the percentage of their power generated by wind is not as high as Denmark.

The market for wind power in China continues to grow with policies that have piqued interest from investors.

Bronze- Germany

Once again, Germany’s financial model for renewable energy has allowed it to succeed. Even without government subsidies, wind energy is the cheapest source of energy in Germany.

“The cost of wind energy is very competitive and it is expected to come down enormously in the next few years,” said Andreas Von Schoenberg, who owns an environmental consulting firm in Berlin, Germany.


Geothermal Energy

Gold- Kenya

Kenya steals the top spot in a tight race with silver medalist Iceland for production of geothermal energy. Not only does geothermal account for 51 percent of Kenya’s energy capacity, but the country continues to development geothermal. Kenya’s gold medal also comes from them setting the path for renewable energy in developing countries.

Silver- Iceland

25 percent of Iceland’s energy production comes from geothermal power. Even swimming pools in Iceland can be heated with geothermal energy.

Iceland’s geographical location makes heating a challenge that geothermal has conquered. They harness the power of volcanoes for heating and cooling and for electricity.

Bronze- The Philippines

The government in the Philippines plans to double generation of geothermal energy within the next decade. Geothermal provides 27 percent of the country’s total electricity production. There is lots of potential for sources of geothermal in the Philippines that still needs to be tapped into.


A Fierce Competition

The financial and political decisions that a country’s government makes impact its success of renewable energy. Northern Europe may have a head start, but other countries are following their example.

Renewable energy technology continues to change each year. When the 2020 Summer Olympics meet in Tokyo, will a new leader emerge?