Alternative Energy Use

Alternative Energy Use

Use the MapMaker Interactive to explore alternative energy use by countries across the globe.


7 - 12+


Earth Science, Geography, Human Geography

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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.

Fast Fact

In 1980, only three countries—Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland—got more than 30 percent of their energy from alternative sources, including nuclear energy. In 2009, an additional seven countries got more than 30 percent of their energy from alternative sources. These were Paraguay, Tajikistan, France, Sweden, Costa Rica, Lithuania, and Armenia.

Fast Fact

In 2010, Iceland used the equivalent of 16,842 kilograms (37,130.3 pounds) 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 percent of its energy from alternative sources, including hydroelectric and geothermal.

Fast Fact

In 2009, Paraguay got 99.45 percent of its energy from hydroelectricity. The source of this enormous hydroelectric capacity is the Itaipu Dam, once the largest hydroelectric facility in the world. The dam is built on the Parana River on the Brazil-Paraguay border.

Fast Fact

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the G-20 group of major economies that gets less than 1 percent of its energy from alternative sources. A major oil exporter, Saudi Arabia gets 100 percent of its energy from fossil fuels.

Media Credits

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Ryan Schleeter
National Geographic Society
Sean P. O'Connor, BioBlitz Education Consultant
David Knoppers, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

March 18, 2024

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