Winners do not always win

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None of the G7 countries are among the top 25 nations in the GeGaLo index. Does this mean that big economies will lose out in the energy transition?

Large countries tend to have more complex economies, geographies and energy systems. Therefore, large countries are more likely to have both fossil fuels and renewable energy resources and are more likely to gravitate towards the middle of the index than towards the top or the bottom.

Japan occupies the 26th position in the index. Why is it better positioned than other G7 members?

Some of the others have major fossil fuel resources – especially Canada, China, Russia, the United States – while Japan has none and is overwhelmingly an importer of fossil fuels. This means that if Japan is no longer going to import fossil fuels, it will get rid of a significant burden, both in terms of the trade balance and in terms of energy security. In addition, Japan has a large and windy maritime exclusive economic zone, and we take this into account in calculating the wind resources available. Like the United Kingdom, Japan could cover much of its energy needs by surrounding itself with offshore wind turbines.

France is also in a good position at 37th place. Does it mean having a large share of nuclear power gives a country a geopolitical advantage? 

It is not the nuclear power as such that has this effect as we don’t take it into account in our index, but rather the fact that France does not have a lot of fossil fuel resources – which is of course one reason why it has developed nuclear power. France also has good solar resources, at least by European standards.

Spain is also high in the index – just one position after France. Did the country rank near the top of the list because of its strong solar energy potential?

Spain has even better solar resources than France, but France has the advantage of its numerous overseas territories. Many of them are small but have massive exclusive economic zones in the surrounding seas, and this gives a lot of wind resources. The question is whether this is really relevant when those territories are so far away from mainland France. Perhaps Spain should actually have been above France in the index.

With the exception of Brazil, almost all of the first 50 countries are relatively small in size. Are big nations going to face more issues than small countries?

They are small in terms of population and economy, but many of them are not small in terms of surface area. And that is important. As we count solar radiation and wind per square kilometer per person, countries like Iceland and Mauritania do very well. In the alternative versions of the index where we don’t take into account conflict and governance, this effect is even more pronounced and countries such as Mongolia, Libya and Australia also score very high. There is some sense in this, as we see from current conflicts over the placement of renewable energy installations in Europe: space has a value. With fossil fuels, it is the fuels themselves that have been valuable. With renewables, the “fuel” is free, so space – and technology – become more important.

India (97), Germany (102), China (104), Canada (108), USA (110) and Australia (112) are very close in the lower part of the ranking. What characteristics do they share?

The index takes into account several things, so it is a combination of factors rather than a unidimensional explanation of why these countries end up near each other. India and Germany are net importers of fossil fuels, but also have considerable coal reserves and production, and limited space due to their relatively high population density. Similarly, China is a major oil and gas importer, but also a significant producer of oil, gas, and – obviously – coal. The same goes for the United States, Australia, and Canada, but with more emphasis on oil and gas. In the case of Australia, large-scale coal-production and exports also play a role in making it the lowest-ranked of these countries, combined with its oil and gas resources they outweigh its massive solar resources. So these are some reasons why these countries end up with similar ranks, but they also explain why some of them are still higher up and some lower down within this group.

Why are some African countries like Cameroon and Chad among the lowest-ranking countries, while others – such as Mauritania, Mali, Somalia, and the Central African Republic – are in the top 20? Is Africa as a whole going to take advantage of the energy transition?

In this version of the index, governance and conflict play an important role and push some African countries towards the bottom. I think this is the main weakness of the main version of the index, and for such countries it is better to use one of the alternative versions. Indeed, the solar revolution is going to be huge in Africa, except for in the continent’s major oil exporters like Angola and Nigeria. They may also shift to solar power, but will lose their fossil fuel export markets.

The European countries that are among the top 25 are Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Cyprus, and Iceland. Are northern European countries better positioned due to their wind power potential?

Yes it’s windy in northern Europe, you don’t need to rub it in! Some of these countries also have relatively low population density – that is, spare space for renewable energy installations. Iceland is an extreme case, because of its miniscule population – just over 300,000 – and because of its vast maritime territories. You could put an awful lot of windmills on and around Iceland, especially if you look at it in per capita terms.

Jordan is the highest-ranking Middle Eastern country, at 56th place. Is this because the country is mainly an energy importer?

Jordan is sunny, but it is hardly the only sunny country in the Middle East. However, Jordan has little by way of fossil fuels, and this is a contrast to many other Middle Eastern countries. Also, it is more peaceful and better governed than most of its neighbors, and that also plays a role in this version of the index.

Yemen, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, North Korea, Qatar, Venezuela, and Sudan occupy the last seven positions. Do issues such as politically oppressive governments, armed conflicts, and severe economic problems complicate the energy transition?   

Yes. This is the same as with the African countries we discussed above and is largely due to conflict and bad governance. It is one of the weaknesses of this version of the index and it is therefore not particularly useful for such countries. However, in the case of Iraq, Qatar, and Venezuela the ranks are also affected by their large fossil fuel reserves and exports, which will lose value when the world transitions to renewable energy.

You can find the full GeGaLo Index here.

In previous interviews in this series, Overland has discussed geopolitical issues related to the GeGaLo Index itself, the myths around the geopolitics of renewable energy, and the combination of solar and hydropower. He has also talked about countries such as China, the United States, Russia and Saudi Arabia, as well as technologies like storage, super-grids, and the energy transition in general.