Electrification is at the heart of decarbonisation, but it only makes sense if those grids are powered by clean energy. The International Energy Agency (IEA) suggests that net zero requires global electricity demand to more than double between 2020 and 2050, gaining “dominance in heating, transport and industrial sectors”. On a global level, the transition to clean electricity is accelerating at breakneck speed. Yet some grids remain almost entirely fossil fuel-powered. Energy Monitor has calculated the world’s top ten dirtiest power grids.
Using data from GlobalData, Energy Monitor’s parent company, we define the top ten dirtiest power grids as those countries that have the greatest share of coal, gas and oil in their grid-connected electricity generation capacity.
These are countries that have barely embarked on a transition to clean electricity, despite being party to the 2015 Paris Agreement and 2021 Glasgow Climate Pact, which theoretically align them to a future of 1.5°C of warming. They are at the opposite end of the scale to countries such as Sweden, Norway, Brazil and Canada, which have renewables-dominated grids.
The top ten dirtiest grids also defy current investment trends, which are strongly in favour of renewables. The IEA’s latest global renewables report – published in December 2022 – predicts that over the period 2022–27, renewables will grow by a massive 2,400GW. This is an 85% acceleration from the previous five years.
The top ten dirtiest power grids
1. Turkmenistan (100% fossil power)
Number one on the list is the Central Asian country of Turkmenistan, which produces 100% of its electricity from fossil fuels. This is a remarkable statistic, given that wind and solar power are by far the cheapest sources of electricity on average globally.
Turkmenistan is not like most countries, however. Since independence from the USSR in 1991, Turkmenistan has been ruled by a series of repressive totalitarian regimes, and the country operates a closed economy with very little foreign investment.
The country also holds the fifth-largest natural gas reserves in the world, and gas contributes to around 80% of the country’s exports. Natural gas accordingly provides 98% of the country’s electricity.
2. Kuwait (99.4% fossil power)
Next on the list is another petrostate, Kuwait, which has a 99% fossil fuel-powered grid. Lodged between Iraq and Saudi Arabia at the tip of the Persian Gulf, oil reserves were first discovered in commercial quantities in the country in 1938. The now-wealthy country holds the sixth-largest oil reserves in the world.
Kuwait generates 44% of its electricity from oil, with a further 55% coming from natural gas. It has a stated national goal of 15% renewable energy generation by 2030, but so far just a handful of wind turbines and photovoltaic panels have been built at the Shagaya Renewable Energy Park, which lies in the desert around 100km north of the capital, Kuwait City.
3. Libya (99.1% fossil power)
The North African nation of Libya is another petrostate, with the tenth-largest proven oil reserves in the world, and the largest in Africa. It generates 66% of its electricity from gas and 33% from oil.
Unlike other petrostates in this list, Libya has a significant excuse for its lack of green progress: since the deposition of former autocrat Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the country has been gripped by civil war and ongoing political instability. The socioeconomic fallout has been significant, with some 70% of the country reported to be malnourished in 2017.
Following a ceasefire in 2020, the economic outlook for the country looks more positive, with the economy expected to grow by 3.5% in 2022 and 4.4% in 2023. The country ratified the Paris Agreement in 2021, and its Strategic Plan for Renewable Energies targets 22% of electricity generation from renewables by 2030.
4. Trinidad and Tobago (98.9% fossil power)
The fourth country on the list is Trinidad and Tobago, the southernmost island country in the Caribbean, with a population of around 1.5 million. Lying just 11km off the coast of Venezuela, it has access to the same fossil fuel basin that that nation famously holds: oil and gas account for around 40% of gross domestic product (GDP) and 80% of exports.
Trinidad and Tobago produces 98% of its electricity from gas, although its overall power grid is very small, with only around 2GW of capacity. The government has said it wants to boost renewable energy, although so far subsidised, domestically-produced fossil fuels continue to dominate.
5. Saudi Arabia (98.8% fossil power)
Saudi Arabia is the only country on this list that is also in the top ten countries with the largest fossil fuel-powered grids in absolute terms, where – with 96GW of dirty grid capacity – it comes in at number six. A dominant power in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has the largest oil reserves in the world and is the second-largest producer of oil after the US.
Despite producing 99% of electricity from fossil fuels, the country has made a lot of noise about its renewable ambitions. Its Vision 2030 economic plan sees the country growing its share of gas – which is controversially defined as a ‘clean’ energy source – and renewable energy in electricity production to 50% by 2030. The country has also announced plans to invest more than $100bn (SR376.01bn) in renewable energy projects.
6. Moldova (98.7% fossil power)
Moldova is the first non-petrostate on the list, but instead of being beholden to a particular economic development pathway, it is beholden to a manipulative, aggressive neighbour in the form of Russia. The country relies on the Cuciurgani-Moldavskaya GRES (MGRES) gas-fired power plant, which lies in the Russian-controlled, breakaway territory of Transnistria, for 80% of electricity consumption.
A complicated combination of local politics and debt keeps the country dependent on the MGRES plant and Russian gas, as a recent Energy Monitor article from Isabeau Van Halm explains. The Soviet-era power system, a weak economy and limited foreign direct investment flows mean the country has struggled to develop its renewable energy sector.
7. The Bahamas (98.5% fossil power)
The second Caribbean nation on Energy Monitor’s top ten dirtiest power grids list is the Bahamas, an island nation of 400,000 people that lies to the north of Cuba. One of the wealthiest countries in the Americas, the country’s economy is dominated by the tourism industry, as well as the offshore financial services sector.
The Bahamas aims to source 30% of its energy needs from renewables by 2030, but for the time being it continues to rely on a costly and inefficient power supply, which is 98% generated from imported oil.
8. Algeria (97% fossil power)
Algeria is the sixth petrostate on the list, with 77% of national exports coming from the oil and gas sector. The largest country in Africa by landmass, with a population of 44 million, Algeria generates 95% of its electricity from natural gas.
Situated almost entirely in the Sahara Desert, Algeria has the potential to be a clean energy superpower, either by exporting solar power to Europe, or by producing green hydrogen and exporting it via pipeline. The country has plans to have 15,000MW of renewable electricity generation capacity by 2035, with a growth rate of 1,000MW per year. A call for tenders to install solar power plants in several regions is ongoing.
9. Bangladesh (95.8% fossil power)
Climate change poses a massive challenge for Bangladesh. Average tropical cyclones already cost the low-lying country $1bn annually. By 2050, a third of agricultural GDP is likely to be lost, and 13 million people could become internal climate migrants, according to the World Bank.
The low-income country’s outdated power grid is both inefficient and highly reliant on natural gas. On 4 October 2022, 80% of Bangladesh's 168 million-strong population was hit by blackouts, after the ongoing global energy crisis meant that the country’s 77 natural gas plants had insufficient fuel to keep running.
Most renewable electricity in the country comes from a hydroelectric plant built in the 1960s, with modern projects struggling to get off the ground as a result of both low investment rates and limited access to land.
10. Botswana (94.8% fossil power)
Botswana has the tenth-dirtiest power grid, and is also the only sub-Saharan African nation to make it onto the list. Two coal-fired plants around 200km north of Gaborone, Botswana’s capital, supply the vast majority of the country's electricity. The country holds massive domestic coal reserves of more than 200 billion tonnes.
With a population of 2.4 million, and an overall installed national power capacity of 1GW, Botswana's national emissions are very small. Around a third of Botswana's population lack access to power, and the country’s electricity supply is unreliable and expensive.
Botswana nonetheless has massive unexploited renewable potential, particularly in the solar sector, and the country aims to reduce emissions by 15% by 2030 through the rapid roll-out of renewables.