Alternative energy is energy that does not come from fossil fuels, and thus produces little to no greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2). This means that energy produced from alternative sources does not contribute to the greenhouse effect that causes climate change. You can explore CO2 emissions using the MapMaker Interactive here.
These energy sources are referred to as “alternative” because they represent the alternative to coal, oil, and natural gas, which have been the most common sources of energy since the Industrial Revolution. These fossil fuels emit high levels of CO2 when burned to produce energy and electricity. Alternative energy, however, should not be confused with renewable energy, although many renewable energy sources can also be considered alternative. Solar power, for example, is both renewable and alternative because it will always be abundant and it emits no greenhouse gases. Nuclear power, however, is alternative but not renewable, since it uses uranium, a finite resource. Learn more about renewable energy using the MapMaker Interactive here.
This map shows the average percentage of a country’s total energy use that came from alternative sources between the years 2006-2010. Alternative energy here includes hydroelectric energy, solar energy, geothermal energy, wind energy, nuclear energy, and biomass energy. The data come from the World Bank. It is important to note that while the World Bank considers nuclear energy an alternative energy source, not all energy policy experts agree on how to categorize nuclear energy.
- In 2009, Paraguay got 99.45% of its energy from hydroelectricity. The source of this enormous hydroelectric capacity is the Itaipu Dam, the largest hydroelectric facility in the world. The dam is built on the Parana River on the Brazil-Paraguay border.
- In 2010, Iceland used the equivalent of 16,842 kilograms of oil per person, the highest per capita energy consumption of any country in the world. However, most of that energy is not coming from oil, because Iceland gets 85% of its energy from alternative sources, including hydroelectric and geothermal.
- Saudi Arabia is the only country in the G-20 group of major economies that gets less than 1% of its energy from alternative sources. A major oil exporter, Saudi Arabia gets 100% of its energy from fossil fuels.
- In 1980, only three countries—Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland—got more than 30% of their energy from alternative sources, including nuclear energy. In 2009, an additional seven countries got more than 30% of their energy from alternative sources. These were Paraguay, Tajikistan, France, Sweden, Costa Rica, Lithuania, and Armenia.
in large amounts.
renewable energy derived from living or recently living organisms, mostly plants.
greenhouse gas produced by animals during respiration and used by plants during photosynthesis. Carbon dioxide is also the byproduct of burning fossil fuels.
gradual changes in all the interconnected weather elements on our planet.
dark, solid fossil fuel mined from the earth.
to give off or send out.
limited and not renewable.
coal, oil, or natural gas. Fossil fuels formed from the remains of ancient plants and animals.
group of bankers and finance ministers representing the world's top 20 economies (19 nations and the European Union). Also called the Group of 20.
heat energy generated within the Earth.
phenomenon where gases allow sunlight to enter Earth's atmosphere but make it difficult for heat to escape.
gas in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, and ozone, that absorbs solar heat reflected by the surface of the Earth, warming the atmosphere.
energy generated by moving water converted to electricity. Also known as hydroelectricity.
change in economic and social activities, beginning in the 18th century, brought by the replacement of hand tools with machinery and mass production.
most powerful hydroelectric dam in the world, spanning the Parana River between Paraguay and Brazil.
type of fossil fuel made up mostly of the gas methane.
energy released by reactions among the nuclei of atoms.
fossil fuel formed from the remains of marine plants and animals. Also known as petroleum or crude oil.
energy obtained from sources that are virtually inexhaustible and replenish naturally over small time scales relative to the human life span.
the available supply of goods, materials, or services in a specific place at a specific time.
rate of producing, transferring, or using solar energy.
chemical element with the symbol U. Fuel used to produce nuclear energy.
kinetic energy produced by the movement of air, able to be converted to mechanical power.