Transitioning to clean electricity production in every region (SDG 7)

Remote regions produce the most electricity using renewable sources and generate 36% of the clean electricity in OECD countries.

The transition to zero-carbon electricity production requires investing in renewable sources of energy and abandoning the use of fossil fuels. Among the main fossil fuels used in electricity generation, coal is particularly emission-intensive and its unabated use will need to be phased out first. In the Powering Past Coal Alliance, many OECD countries have committed to exiting all unabated coal-fired electricity generation by 2030 (unless CO2 emissions are captured and stored) – consistent with the Paris Agreement. Although capturing and storing emissions is an option towards climate objectives, which has not yet been deployed at scale, the use of renewable sources is the main strategy to decarbonise electricity.

Regions located further away from metropolitan areas are leading in clean electricity. Such regions, which account for 27% of the electricity produced in OECD countries, generate 44% of their electricity using renewable sources. Among them, remote regions record a higher share of renewables (51% of total production) than regions that are close to a small or medium city (32% of total production). Taken together, regions far from metropolitan areas account for around half of the total electricity produced from renewable sources in the OECD, with hydropower being the most used renewable source (Figure 3.12-Figure 3.13).

Overall, the use of renewable sources tends to increase with distance to metropolitan areas. Metropolitan regions, which are home to around 70% of the OECD population, generate almost 60% of the total electricity in OECD countries but only 16% of their total electricity production comes from renewable sources. The dependency on fossil fuels (including coal) for electricity production in metropolitan regions remains high, raising their carbon emissions and associated long-term environmental risks. In 2017, metropolitan regions generated 29% of their electricity using coal and 37% using other fossil fuels (Figure 3.12-Figure 3.13).

Electricity production from renewable sources is also very unequal across regions of the same country. In 14 OECD countries, the use of renewable sources is particularly concentrated, with regions far from metropolitan areas generating twice as much of their electricity through renewable sources compared to metropolitan regions. The differences are largest in Canada, Finland, Germany and Latvia (Figure 3.14). Similarly, electricity production from clean energy sources is also highly concentrated across large OECD regions (TL2). Available estimates indicate (see Annex C) that in around three-quarters of OECD countries, the share of electricity produced through renewable sources can be more than 50 percentage point higher than in the region with the lowest share in the same country.

Byers, L. et al. (2020), A Global Database of Power Plants, https://www.wri.org/publication/global-power-plant-database.

OECD (2020), OECD Regional Statistics (database), OECD, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/region-data-en.

See country metadata in Annex B.

See territorial grids and regional typology in Annex A.

Figure 3.12-Figure 3.13: Weighted averages by type of small regions (TL3) across 35 OECD countries. COL and EST are not included.

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