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EIA's Energy in Brief: How much of the world's electricity supply is generated from wind and who are the leading generators? Home > Energy in Brief > How much of the world's electricity supply is generated from wind and who are the leading generators? Worldwide wind power generation exceeded 250 billion kilowatthours in 2009, which is equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of over 22 million average households in the United States. A feed-in tariff is a financial incentive that encourages the adoption of renewable electricity. Maintaining its position for two years in a row, the United States led all other countries in wind power generation in 2009. According to the World and European Wind Energy Associations, installed global wind capacity reached 197,000 megawatts by the end of 2010, with just over 3,000 MW of that total located offshore.
Over the lifetime of the plant, electricity from wind power generally costs more than electricity from power plants burning fossil fuels.1 However, wind power is expected to continue to grow worldwide because of favorable government policies.
Although wind farms have relatively low operating costs, capital investment costs are significant. Today, most of our energy comes from fossil fuels including petroleum, coal, and natural gas, which release greenhouse gases that cause climate to warm. Remember to also keep the cost of energy as low as you can, avoid damage to the environment, and gain support for your choices among your subjects. Check the gages above to make sure you have made enough energy and have reduced CO2 emissions enough. Just over one-third (35.4 %) of the power consumed globally is generated by burning petroleum. In terms of carbon dioxide emissions, petroleum is a more efficient fuel than coal but is less efficient than natural gas. Burning coal emits significant quantities of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Burning coal emits about 330 kilograms of carbon dioxide for each megawatt-hour of electricity produced.
The price of coal delivered to power plants in the USA in 2006 was around $1.70 per million Btu (units commonly used in the USA) of energy content. For each megawatt-hour of energy produced, natural gas emits 181 kilograms of CO2 into the atmosphere.
Fairly minor amounts of pollutants are created in the process of refining natural gas after it is removed from the ground. The infrastructure used to extract and transport natural gas can be disruptive to environments. Some people dislike the environmental impact of wells used to extract natural gas from the ground.
Nuclear power ranks well behind the three major fossil fuels (petroleum, coal, and natural gas) in terms of the amount of the world's energy demands it supplies. You may set the CO2 emissions for nuclear power to zero if you wish to represent just the ongoing emissions from this power source. The cost of generating electricity using nuclear power ranges from about 1 to 12 cents per kWh.
The main concern associated with nuclear power is the storage, transport, and disposal of radioactive wastes. Opponents of nuclear power are generally distrustful of claims that radioactive wastes can be stored and disposed of safely. Hydroelectric power is a source of renewable energy that is generated by harnessing the power of moving water. Hydroelectric power is by far the largest source of renewable energy currently in use around the world.
Indirectly, construction of dams and hydroelectric power plants generates some CO2 emissions. Alteration of land and water use associated with hydroelectric power could alter the carbon cycle over some area, but it would be difficult to say whether that would cause a net increase in CO2 emissions. You may set the CO2 emissions for hydroelectric power to zero if you wish to represent just the ongoing emissions from this power source. The cost of generating electricity using hydroelectric power ranges from about 2 to 10 cents per kWh. Most hydroelectric power plants are located next to dams, which allow the operators to control the water level and flow to the generating turbines. Hydroelectric power does not produce any ongoing emissions of pollutants, in contrast to the pollution generated by burning fossil fuels. Hydroelectric power from ocean waves and currents is a relatively new field, and a variety of approaches are being tested.
Most people like the fact that ongoing operations at hydroelectric power plants are essentially non-polluting, including in terms of carbon dioxide emissions. Some people are very strongly opposed to the ecological disruption caused by dams and the areas they flood. Currently, hydroelectric power is the largest source of renewable energy, yet it only supplies about 6% of the world's energy, producing about 8.7 petawatt hours of electricity each year worldwide.
Some of the major biofuels are used in such a decentralized way that it is challenging to estimate how much they are being used throughout the world.
Some experts estimate that about 4.2% of the the world's energy comes from biofuels, while other place the value closer to 2%. Burning biofuels generates CO2 emissions to an extent that is similar to emissions generated by burning fossil fuels. Burning wood emits almost as much CO2 as does burning coal, the worst of the major fossil fuels in terms of CO2 emissions.
Some biofuels are comparable in price to petroleum, while other can cost up to 3 or 4 times as much. Wood is still widely used in many places, typically by poor people who have little access to other energy sources. Since use of wood as a fuel generates severe negative environmental impacts (including deforestation) in various ways, most people support efforts to replace the use of wood as a fuel with cleaner alternatives.
Some biofuels turn waste products into useful energy sources; most people wholeheartedly support this. Although wind power is one of the fastest growing energy sources, it currently produces less than one percent of the world's energy.
The world harvests about 433 terawatt-hours (a bit over 0.4 petawatt-hours) of power from the wind each year. If you choose to have your subjects use more wind power, you should consider how much wind power could be scaled up from its present level.
Alteration of land use associated with hydroelectric power could alter the natural carbon cycle over some area, but it would be difficult to say whether that would cause a net increase in CO2 emissions. You may set the CO2 emissions for wind power to zero if you wish to represent just the ongoing emissions from this power source. The cost of generating electricity from wind energy ranges from about 4 to 9 cents per kWh.
Some people consider wind turbines, especially when clustered in wind farms, an eyesore that damages the visual appeal of the landscape.
Some people are concerned about the deaths of birds and bats that collide with the blades of wind turbines. Wind turbines can also be noisy, which could interfere with or disturb nearby recreational uses of land.
Ongoing generation of wind power does not emit greenhouse gases or other air pollutants, making it far cleaner in this regard than any of the fossil fuel sources.
Some people do not like the visual, aesthetic impact that large clusters of wind turbines have on the landscape. Some people like the look of wind turbines, which can remind them of societal progress towards more use of renewable energy sources that don't emit greenhouse gases or other pollutants. There is also some concern about bird deaths caused by collisions with wind turbines, especially migratory flocks.
Wind generation increased by about 20% from 2008 to 2009, and has more than tripled since 2004.
Under a feed-in tariff, government legislation requires electric utilities to purchase renewable electricity at a higher price than the wholesale price.


The remaining top-ten wind power generators, listed in descending order, were Germany, Spain, China, India, the United Kingdom, France, Portugal, Denmark, and Italy. The next highest levels of wind penetration are found in Portugal at 16%, Spain at 13%, Ireland at 11%, and Germany at 7%. Even though offshore development lags behind onshore, generally due to higher costs and technology constraints, over 1,000 MW were built in 2010.
Multiple types of government support exist, including a production tax credit and State renewable electricity portfolio standards in the United States, a feed-in tariff (see the "Did You Know" box on the left) in Germany, and wind capacity targets in China. In addition, the intermittent nature of wind results in relatively low capacity factors, such that a wind plant will generate less electricity than a conventional thermal or hydroelectric plant of the same size and over the same period of time. Learn about an energy source and decide how you want to change the popup menus for cost, impact, and public support. Check how your choices have affected the cost, environmental impact, and support or resistance gages. Burning petroleum (as heating oil, gasoline, airline fuel, and so on) generates more than one-third (36.5 %) of our power. Burning petroleum produces about 250 kilograms of carbon dioxide for each megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity produced.
A barrel (42 gallons) of crude oil can be used to generate about 5.8 million Btu's of energy. Within one six-month span between July 2008 and January 2009, the price of oil rose above $135 per barrel and later dropped below $35 per barrel! Exhaust gases from vehicles powered by gasoline and diesel fuels are a major source of air pollution in urban areas.
Coal is a relatively inexpensive source of energy at the present time (the average worldwide cost of electricity generated by burning coal is about 2 cents per kilowatt-hour).
Coal emits more carbon dioxide per kWh of energy generated than does oil; and much more than burning natural gas. Burning coal releases various air pollutants, including sulfur compounds which produce acid rain. Coal is used to generate 27% of the world's energy supply (equivalent to 37.4 petawatt-hours). It is burned in furnaces to heat buildings, used for cooking and heating water, burned in electrical power plants, and occasionally used as a fuel for vehicles.
That's about 20-30% less CO2 emissions than from various petroleum products (fuel oil, gasoline, etc.) and about 35-45% less emissions than various types of coal.
Some natural gas escapes into the atmosphere (during transport, etc.) before it is burned as fuel.
As shown in the graph, prices throughout most of the 1980s and 1990s hovered around $6 per thousand cubic feet. However, petroleum and coal both emit quite a bit more CO2 when burned than natural gas does. Natural gas drilling rigs, as well as the roads and other facilities needed to support them, can disturb natural environments and recreational opportunities in the vicinity. People burn natural gas to heat buildings, cook food, generate electricity, and power vehicles.
Burning natural gas emits much less carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour of energy produced than does burning petroleum or coal. Diesel-powered trucks and construction equipment burn petroleum, cement manufacturing releases CO2 from limestone, and so on.
Fuel rods, typically made with radioactive uranium, must be disposed of when their remaining uranium content falls below a certain level. Those people think the risks involved in such disposal are small compared to the advantages of nuclear power. As is the case with most other types of large power plants used to generate electricity, nuclear plants must use large amounts of water for cooling. They highlight the advantages in reduced pollution and reduced carbon dioxide emissions associated with nuclear power as compared to burning fossil fuels.
They claim that time periods associated with radioactive decay are so long that we simply cannot predict what might eventually become of waste products.
Opponents are typically concerned with the environmental impacts and security concerns associated with the storage and disposal of radioactive nuclear waste. Most hydroelectric power is generated at dams that temporarily trap water flowing downhill in rivers. Natural gas generates more than 3 times as much energy as does hydroelectric power, while coal produces more than 4 times as much. It isn't yet clear what the overall impact of these facilities will be on seashore aesthetics, ocean life, and marine environments. For example, wood is gathered for heating and cooking in many places around the world, but it is not easy to estimate how much of this sort of activity is going on. Others claim that biofuels supply up to 15% of the world's total energy and as much as 35% in developing countries. These include sawdust, gases (mostly methane) emitted by decaying material in landfills, and some types of biodiesel. Some people like the fact that biofuels can be used to reduce dependence on fossil fuel imports from politically unstable or unfriendly countries. However, such efforts generally require money, so support is sometimes limited by financial concerns.
Biofuels do tend to emit carbon dioxide when burned, so biofuels are not necessarily a help in efforts to curtail global warming. Although there is disagreement about how much of our energy comes from biofuels, they likely generate about 2% of the world's energy supply (about 3 petawatt-hours). Wind power is a renewable power source which does not directly produce any carbon dioxide emissions. Only certain locations are suitable for wind power generating facilities, and such locations are sometimes far from populated areas where energy is used most. Some people find wind turbines unsightly; this could become a larger issue if wind power production was scaled up and many new wind turbines were installed. There are still many suitably windy places that are not being used yet; but we could only generate so much power from wind even if we built many turbines.
We clearly could harvest much more energy from the wind; however, it is probably unreasonable to assume that a very large portion of our total energy use could be generated by wind power alone. Diesel-powered trucks and construction equipment burn petroleum, manufacturing metal turbine blades requires energy, and so on. Wind turbines can also be noisy, which can make neighbors of wind power facilities unhappy. This growth is mostly due to capacity increases in the United States, China, India, and Western Europe. This incentive allows the renewable generator to achieve a positive return on its investment despite the higher costs associated with these resources. Although about 35 countries reported significant wind power generation in 2009, these top-ten countries accounted for more than 85% of all wind generation worldwide. No other country surpassed 5% penetration, including the United States, which generated almost 2% of its electricity from wind in 2009.
Western Europe is home to nearly all existing offshore capacity; Japan and China have started to add offshore wind farms of their own. A relatively small amount of the electricity generated worldwide comes from oil-fired power plants.
Oils spills from oil tanker ships or pipelines can cause severe damage to ecosystems and wildlife, especially when they occur along coasts or in Arctic environments where natural degradation occurs slowly due to the cold temperatures. People don't like the pollution from burning fossil fuels: air pollution, GHG emissions, oil spills. Petroleum is a non-renewable fossil fuel that emits the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide when burned. Many people support petroleum use because they need it for their cars and trucks yet they are unhappy about large swings in gasoline prices, oil from unstable regions, and the pollution (including greenhouse gas emissions) associated with petroleum.
When burned directly for heating, coal can cost as little as 1 to 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour-equvalent of heat energy produced. This leakage slightly increases the overall greenhouse gas emissions associated with the use of natural gas.


When used to generate electricity (instead of for heating), natural gas costs about 3.7 cents per kWh of electricity delivered to customers. However, the cost of natural gas rose sharply in the past decade as prices more than doubled during that time. Some air pollutants are also released when natural gas is burned, but the scale of this pollution is also much smaller than that caused by burning oil or coal. Since natural gas is essentially methane, a very potent greenhouse gas, this leakage contributes somewhat to global warming concerns. Because of the low density of natural gas per kWh of energy it contains, natural gas is challenging to store and transport. Some people disapprove of reliance on any fuel source that comes from another country, especially if the region is politically unstable or has an adversarial relationship with the country needing to import fuel.
Nuclear plants do generate radioactive wastes which present long-term storage, disposal, and security concerns. This also can be said to some extent for the infrastructure behind all of our power sources, be they windmills or dams with hydroelectric power plants or conventional coal-fired plants. Whichever you choose, you should be consistent across energy sources (hydroelectric, solar, wind, etc.).
Other equipment and materials used in nuclear reactors acquire low levels of radioactivity after prolonged exposure to the fuel rods and must also be disposed of at some point. Other people fear that radioactive wastes are likely to leak out of containers over the vast time spans required for radioactivity levels to fall to safe values. They also assert that fuel supplies for nuclear power are large compared with dwindling sources of fossil fuels.
Water flows through turbine generators, producing electricity as gravity pulls the water downwards. Petroleum, our largest energy source, generates almost 6 times as much energy as does hydroelectric power. This also can be said to some extent for the infrastructure behind all of our power sources, be they windmills or nuclear power plants or conventional coal-fired plants. Whichever you choose, you should be consistent across energy sources (nuclear, solar, wind, etc.). They can have negative aesthetic as well as natural impacts, such as the disruption of fish migrations and the alteration of distribution of river-carried sediments.
Others are in favor of this non-polluting power source and enjoy recreational at reservoirs created by dams. Ethanol, a type of alcohol, is derived from plants (such as sugarcane and corn) and is used as a fuel for vehicles. If you choose to adjust the CO2 emissions setting, you should consider which biofuel or biofuels you wish to have your subjects use. Use of wood, if not a waste product like sawdust, brings additional problems associated with greenhouse gases; forests, which absorb CO2 from the air (removing it from the atmosphere), are often cut down to supply wood for fuel. Releasing it directly into the atmosphere would probably produce even more of a greenhouse effect than would the carbon dioxide generated by burning the biogas.
Deforestation to gather wood for fuel brings with it severe erosion, habitat destruction, and a host of other environmental problems. Burning biofuels emits CO2, however if plants used for biofuels are regrown, they take the same amount of CO2 out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis.
The true cost of wind power is challenging to determine; the cost of building and installing wind turbines is the main factor driving the price of electricity generated by the wind, since there are no ongoing costs for fuel. This also can be said to some extent for the infrastructure behind all of our power sources, be they dams for hydroelectric facilities or nuclear power plants or conventional coal-fired plants. Whichever you choose, you should be consistent across energy sources (nuclear, solar, hydroelectric, etc.).
Though experts agree that some birds and bats are killed by wind turbines, different studies reach different conclusions about the severity of this problem. Despite this growth, the world still generated only 1% of its total electricity from wind power in 2009.
As of June 2011, there were no operating offshore wind farms in the United States, although the Department of the Interior approved construction plans for the 420-megawatt Cape Wind project off the Massachusetts coast in April 2011.
Most petroleum is used in transportation, as gasoline for cars, diesel fuel for trucks and buses, and aviation fuel for jet planes. Burning petroleum creates less CO2 emissions (per kWh) than coal but more than natural gas.
Don't like dependence on foreign sources or supplies from unstable regions or countries that are not allies.
The energy content of all the coal we burn is enough to generate 37.4 petawatt hours of electricity. These costs are lower than other fossil fuels, and much lower than most alternative and renewable fuel sources. Solid wastes left over from burning coal contain elevated concentrations of heavy metals (such as mercury) and moderately radioactive isotopes. Coal burning emits more CO2 (per kilowatt-hour of energy generated) than does burning oil or natural gas. You may want to adjust your settings for the CO2 emissions from natural gas to account for this methane leakage.
Sometimes natural gas is a bit more expensive than other fossil fuels, making it less popular.
Although natural gas is used in some areas as a fuel for vehicles, natural gas is not generally as well suited for transportation uses as are petroleum products.
Some types of radioactivity take very long times to dissipate (decades to centuries or longer), so disposal of such substances is unlike any waste handling problem previously encountered by humans. They are concerned that the wastes could get into aquifers and other natural features, contaminating them for very long times.
Some claim that nuclear power is the only viable means for some countries to achieve energy independence. Some hydroelectric power is produced in the oceans by converting the motion of waves into electricity.
Vegetable oil from plants or recycled after use in cooking can be burned in diesel engines. Charcoal is also widely used as a fuel; its environmental impacts are essentially the same as those involving wood. Since modern agriculture tends to be energy-intensive, it is unclear whether ethanol produced from food crops actually results in a net gain in usable energy or not. Some people find this objectionable in light of continuing global struggles with hunger and malnutrition.
Technologies for wind power are evolving, and the growth of this industry is bringing economies of scale to the pricing of new equipment, so the cost of wind power is changing quickly and is difficult to predict in the future. Wind generation growth in the country increased by an average of 80% each year since 2004 and doubled from 2008 to 2009. The cost, energy content, and carbon emissions are different for these various forms of petroleum. Underground fires in many coal mines and coal seams can burn for years, emitting pollutants without generating any useful energy. The availability of enriched uranium would be minimal if it was not produced for use in nuclear plants. Sawdust, charcoal, and gases (mostly methane) emitted by decaying material in landfills are also common biofuels. Some sources of biofuels (particularly ethanol produced from food crops) may merely transform an energy source into another form without generating a net gain in usable energy. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, so burning it (even though that emits CO2, which is also a greenhouse gas) contributes less to global warming than does allowing it to escape into the atmosphere. Sawdust, on the other hand, does not generate greenhouse gas emissions until it is burned; this means that in some respects we are better off with sawdust as a waste material.



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