Balance of Power

As the world's population grows, we need more and more energy to meet the needs of industry and consumers. But what would the world's most electricity-hungry countries look like if their size reflected the amount of juice they use? Our new graphic, Balance of Power, redraws the borders of the world's top 20 electricity consumers.

First of all, why is electricity consumption so important? In many ways, it's a measure of how industrialised and modernised a country is. Factories, power plants, public transport and all the gadgets and appliances in consumers' homes all need vast amounts of electricity – so the more power a country uses, the more industrialised we can expect it to be.

The growth of China is one of the most striking stories illustrated by the graphic. Despite already being one of the world's biggest countries by area, China swells up even larger when its electricity consumption is factored in. China recently overtook the USA to become the world's biggest electricity consumer.

Just a few decades ago, this would have been unthinkable, but the rapid industrialisation and development of China has been one of the most remarkable economic stories of our time. China's insatiable demand for energy has had knock-on effects across the rest of the BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India and China), and their appearance in the top 20 is at least partly due to the Chinese growth phenomenon.

The balance of energy use is not always even, though. Consider India, a country where around one in five people have no access to electricity – yet the country is the world's third biggest user of it. Like China, India has a vast population and a huge landmass, but of the top 20, its citizens have the overall lowest share of electricity per capita.

Taiwan is also worth singling out, as an island with such a small landmass – around twice the size of Wales – it is also one of the world's biggest users of electricity. The massive size increase seen in the graphic highlights just how much the tiny state, whose economy is tightly intertwined with China's, punches above its weight in the global power consumption stakes.

This is partly explained by Taiwan's vast industrial sector, which commands a sizeable global share of hi-tech markets like chipmaking, LED production and LCD screen manufacturing. A similar story can be seen in South Korea.

Some of the biggest surprises come from Russia, Canada Australia and Brazil – some of the biggest countries in the world by landmass as well as being some of the biggest energy users, they become barely visible once rescaled according to energy consumption. This is partly down to the overwhelming dominance of the top three: China, the USA and India between them consume more power than the other 17 countries combined.

As energy needs grow, so does the need for renewable energy. Perhaps surprisingly, China is once again ahead of the pack in this regard: 24.7% of its electricity generation is provided by renewable sources, almost twice as much as second-place USA, where President Trump has recently cast doubt over the country's commitment to eco-friendly power.

China, now the world's largest energy market, recently pledged a staggering £292 billion investment in renewable power by 2020; in stark contrast, President Trump's 2018 budget proposal contained several measures that some claim amount to spending cuts on renewables. Third place India, meanwhile, is making significant investments in solar and wind power and is forecast to exceed its Paris Climate Agreement target.

The worldwide energy grid – who uses it, who produces it and perhaps most importantly, how it's produced – will continue to be a central issue as more and more nations industrialise. Who knows what the global balance of power will look like in the future?

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