If you were casting your eyes around the world to find regions that are leading the way in the global energy transition, the Nordic region might not be your first choice.

This quiet collection of small countries in North-Western Europe – Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland – are not generally renowned as global pacesetters by the rest of us, perhaps due to their cultural humility.

Their GDPs lag far behind those of America, China and (collectively) the EU, and these peace-loving nations rarely, if ever, trouble the epicenter of global politics.  Yet their relatively low profile obscures a heritage of cutting-edge innovation and longstanding and enthusiastic embrace of renewables, a commitment that has seen them assume an outsized ambassadorial role in the global transition to green energy.

Latest data shows all five Nordic countries among the top 10 nations globally for renewable energy generation as a percentage of total energy production:

  • Iceland (1st – 86.87%)
  • Norway (2nd – 71.56%)
  • Sweden (3rd – 50.92%)
  • Denmark (6th – 39.25%)
  • Finland (9th – 34.61%)[1]

While there are underlying patterns which unite the energy profiles of these northerly nations, the subtle distinctions are just as revealing.  So, what is it about these countries that makes them pacesetters on the net zero journey – and is all as green as it first appears?

Renewables power a diversified energy matrix

Norway: As Europe’s largest hydropower producer, Norway boasts an installed capacity of 33 GW.  Ready access to cheap, clean hydropower has enabled Norway to become a global flagbearer for electric vehicles (EVs).  Some 82.4% of new car sales in Norway in 2023 were EVs[2], dwarfing the global EV share of new vehicles at just 15.8%[3].  While most electricity produced in the country comes from hydropower, Norway is simultaneously one of the largest extractors of oil and natural gas in the world.  Thanks to its location on the continental shelf, Norway accounts for some 2% of crude oil production and 3% of natural gas production globally.  Income is a major incentive – together, oil and gas are responsible for around a fifth of the country’s GDP as of 2021[4].

Sweden: With minimal fossil-energy resources, Sweden relies largely on imported oil and natural gas for its energy consumption.  However, three-quarters of Sweden’s domestic electricity production comes from hydropower and nuclear power.  With its vast, open landscape and low population density, wind farms are also a significant contributor at 16%.  Abundant, affordable electricity frequently makes Sweden the biggest net exporter of power in Europe.  It sold 17 TWh of electricity in the last six months of 2022 alone, its largest customers being Finland, Denmark and the EU.[5]

Denmark: Surrounded on most sides by sea, it is little surprise that Denmark relies heavily on offshore wind power.  It has achieved several notable wind benchmarks: In 1978 it became the first country to install a multi-megawatt turbine, and in 1991 the first to open an offshore wind farm, at Vindeby.  Half of Denmark’s electricity generation is powered by wind and solar, 20% by biomass and biofuels, and the remainder from fossil fuels.[6]  It still relies on coal, oil and gas for around 50% of its energy consumption, but a receptive culture for green legislation means this might soon change.  By 2030 there are plans to triple renewable energy production to 104 TWh, with a corresponding 70% cut in carbon emissions.  As part of this strategy the government intends to develop 4-6 GW of electrolysis capacity for green hydrogen production.

Finland: Lacking its own oil and gas deposits, Finland relies on imported fossil fuels for more than a third of its energy needs, particularly for industry and transport.[7]  Remaining demand is met largely from nuclear energy, wood-based fuels and peat burning.  In production terms, biofuels and biowaste (54%) and nuclear energy (34%) are mainstays.  Renewable energy sources, mainly hydropower, account for more than half of electricity production, with nuclear power supplying a further third.  Finland aims to be carbon neutral sooner than its neighbors, by 2035, a goal largely dependent on careful management of its huge swathes of forests, which act as a natural carbon sink for CO2.

Iceland: Replete with its famous hot geysers and active volcanoes, Iceland is at the vanguard of using geothermal energy for electricity production and heating.  More than a quarter of the country’s electricity production is met from geothermal energy, the rest by hydropower.[8]  Heating is 90% geothermal-based, so Iceland’s reliance on fossil fuels is minimal.  It has a carbon neutral target date of 2040 and aims to hasten its net-zero journey by expanding carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) technology and by shifting to cleaner forms of transportation.

While each Nordic country is ploughing its own path to promoting renewables in the sustainable energy mix, some overarching strategies are region-wide.

Coordinated approach to renewable revolution

In 2019 Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland signed the joint Declaration on Nordic Carbon Neutrality[9] (DNCN).  The DNCN formalized opportunities for collaboration on decarbonizing the energy market, while setting out climate mitigation measures for various sectors.

The DNCN established the Nordic nations as potential leaders in green energy globally.  It highlighted the countries’ high environmental standards, alongside their extensive public and private research and investment programs in the bioeconomy.

The agreement sought to leverage the region’s pioneering technological solutions, progressive policies and mature financing regimes to demonstrate what a transformative energy system should aspire to.

Specific aims included:

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • Scaling-up renewable energy production
  • Electrifying the transport sector
  • Promoting green financing, green procurement and impact investing
  • Developing and deploying more CCUS technologies
  • Advocating for climate-conscious consumer choices.

The Nordic Clean Energy Scenarios (NCES) research paper, commissioned to support the DNCN, used detailed scenario modelling to establish the region’s renewable energy priorities.  In so doing, it set a bold renewables trajectory between now and 2030.

For the Nordic nations to achieve carbon neutrality, the paper noted, the rate of emissions reductions would have to increase fivefold compared with the previous decade.  This, it admitted, was a considerable challenge which would have to “strike a balance between what may be cost-effective and what will be politically, socially, and environmentally acceptable”.[10]

Under the various proposed NCES scenarios, CO2 emissions will fall 95% by mid-century, driven in part by accelerated research into renewables.  An expansion of wind power is central to this ambition, exploiting untapped Nordic wind exposure, underpinned by flexibility in hydropower reservoirs.  In each scenario, the share of fossil fuels in the region’s total primary energy supply falls from 42% in 2020 to 6-9% by 2050.

By that latter date, the NCES’ Nordic Powerhouse scenario suggests more than 900 TWh of clean energy could be generated annually within the Nordic countries.  Hydropower and offshore wind would each contribute around 300 TWh of that total; onshore wind more than 150 TWh; nuclear 100 TWh; and solar around 50 TWh.  Direct electrification of end-users is pivotal to all NCES scenarios, gaining particular traction in factories, homes, data centers, vehicles and power-to-x fuels.

The report devises several key recommendations for driving electricity demand: Incentivizing EV purchases and rolling-out a comprehensive charging infrastructure; replacing fossil fuel boilers with electric household heating and heat pumps; and legislating for the economic use of waste heat from industry and data centers.

The central takeaway from the NCES investigation is that the Nordic countries are stronger when working in unity.  Indeed, any national variances in energy capabilities are a potential asset.  For example, as wind generation grows across the region, Danish and Swedish transmission grids and interconnectors will enable electricity exports from Scandinavia to continental Europe.  Norway, meanwhile, is primed to reinforce regional energy security with its longstanding investments in the renewable asset most emblematic of the Nordic nations – hydropower.

Natural landscape helps map out renewables market

Hydropower, as of 2020, accounts for more than half of all electricity generation in the Nordic region – approximately 250 TWh from a total of 430 TWh.  Nuclear and onshore wind are, at present, the only other significant contributors, at approximately 80 TWh and 50 TWh respectively.

With hydropower globally accounting for only 17% of electricity generation[11], why such a preponderance of this energy source in this part of the world?

The answer lies hidden in the landscape.  The topography of Norway, Sweden and Iceland, in particular, is shaped by myriad waterfalls, fjords and rivers, providing irresistible opportunities for hydropower activity.

Sweden can legitimately claim to be a hydropower hotspot, with 1,800 hydro plants providing almost half of the country’s electricity generation.  However, it is Norway that serves as the epicenter of this hydropower hub, with some 1,700 plants accounting for at least 90% of the country’s electricity.[12]

Norway is already a net energy exporter, with 87% of its energy sold abroad as of 2020[13] – a trend that might only increase as Europe continues to wean itself off politically-sensitive Russian gas supplies.  The country’s expansive network of more than 1,000 reservoirs enables its hydroelectrical bounty to be stockpiled ready for timely deployment.  At any one time, Norwegian reservoirs are believed to store around half of Europe’s total hydropower energy.  Some of its most reliable customers are local, however; the common Nordic grid means it can supplement less predictable sources such as wind and solar in neighboring nations.

One reason for hydropower’s enduring popularity is the robustness of the infrastructure.  Across the Nordic countries, multiple plants are still generating green electricity despite being almost a century old.  Hydropower is versatile, too, being one of the only renewable energy sources that can be easily regulated, its generators effortlessly synchronizing supply with demand.

Hydropower production will continue to grow in the Nordic countries throughout the coming decades, but its share of the Nordic energy mix is expected to decline by 2050 from around 56% now to just 25%.[14]  The reason for this is the anticipated rapid rise of a competing green energy source – wind.

Wind blows Nordic renewables in a new direction . . .

As the price of turbine technology continues to fall in the coming decades, wind power is expected to become a dominant force in Nordic renewables.  Some estimates suggest offshore wind capacity in the region will rise to 7 GW by 2030 before soaring to 65 GW by 2050.[15]

Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland are united in this rush to wind, both onshore and off.

In onshore terms, Sweden is planning to install 30 GW of new turbines by the end of the decade and increase energy exports correspondingly.  Similarly, Finland is expecting to grow onshore wind capacity from 5 GW to 20 GW by the same date.  Likewise, by 2030 Denmark will expand its onshore wind capacity by 11.5 GW.[16]  Norway, in turn, finally exceeded the 5 GW onshore wind threshold in 2022, representing a tripling of capacity in just three years.[17]

Denmark and Norway have fast-tracked visions of conquering the offshore wind market too.

With its ready access to the North Sea and Baltic Sea, and its vibrant research and development environment, Denmark is already among the top five European offshore wind markets.  It is also a major exporter of wind energy technology, worth some US$ 7 billion as of 2020 and creating thousands of jobs.[18]  Now it aims to become not just a European leader, but a global leader, in offshore wind.

By 2030 Denmark’s offshore wind capacity will increase exponentially from 2.3 GW to 12.9 GW.  International agreements lie at the heart of these grand plans.  Denmark is a signatory to the Esbjerg Declaration with Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, for a combined 150 GW offshore wind by 2050; and also, the Marienborg Declaration, with eight countries in the Baltic Sea pledging almost 20 GW of new offshore wind by 2030.

Not to be left behind, Norway embarked on a major offshore wind drive in May 2022 by announcing a target of 30 GW offshore capacity by 2040 – roughly equal to the total amount of electricity Norway currently produces annually.[19]

With its huge offshore experience in the oil and gas industries, Norway expects offshore wind to become one of its defining exports, with the sector eventually worth EURO 12.9 billion annually by mid-century.[20]

Significantly, Norway is a pioneer in the ‘floating’ offshore wind market.  Floating platforms are used where sea depths prevent fixed foundations.  Norway’s prototype floating turbine served as the basis for the Hywind installation off the coast of Scotland, which upon its launch in 2017 became the world’s first commercial floating turbine farm.  Norway’s own first floating wind farm, the 88 MW Hywind Tampen, became operational in August last year.

An assessment by the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate calculated the country’s total capacity for both floating and fixed wind farms at up to 12,600 MW, potentially yielding 19-50 TWh annually – meeting one-third of its overall electricity consumption.[21]

Solar power also gets its moment in the sun

Perhaps surprisingly in a region not known for its sunny weather, solar energy is also on the ascendancy among the Nordic nations.  Despite their long winter months, Sweden and Finland in particular are making great strides towards a Sun-powered future.

Sweden has 3.7 GW of solar power now, expected to rise to 18 GW by 2030 (a 486% rise), by which time solar’s share of the Swedish energy market will rise from 1.4% to 6%.  Finland has 1.1 GW of solar power now, predicted to rise to 9.6 GW by 2030 (an 856% rise), capturing 6.8% of the Finnish energy market, up from 0.8% now.[22]

Solar power is generated by light rather than heat, and Southern Finland, with its early spring and late winter sun, can potentially produce more solar power than Central Europe at peak times of the year.

“Finland’s advantage is its low atmospheric temperature, which improves the efficiency of solar photovoltaic cells.  The colder it gets, the better the solar panels work.  Solar panels can also withstand snow loads if they are installed following directions.  The system can also be coupled with the electricity grid, and the devices are relatively low-cost and easy to install,” explains Antti Kosonen, associate professor at LUT university in Finland.

Two other factors are prompting the recent rise of solar power in the Nordic countries.  Firstly, the gradual shift from small rooftop systems to large ground-based farms, which brings economies of scale.  Secondly, the continuing fall in the cost of technology.  By 2030 the price of panels is expected to halve from the current US$ 0.2/watt, building on the trend of the 2010s when solar panel costs plunged 90%.

All of which indicates a thoroughly modern and sustainable energy mix for this cluster of northerly countries, as the planet confronts the existential challenge of climate change.

Renewable resources dovetail with human ambition

The Nordic nations are, in many ways, in a blessed position for a world segueing to renewable energy.  With abundant wind, a highly active geothermal landscape and a latticework of waterways for generating hydropower, they have an environment custom-made for the green transition.

Yet the Nordic nations have an asset that goes beyond the topographical or geological: human impetus.  We see it in the receptive legislative regimes of Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland; and in the spirit of unity demonstrated by cross-border agreements and carefully engineered technological compatibility.

Self-sufficiency might be some way off, but with the bulwark of Norwegian hydropower, buttressed by burgeoning wind and solar industries, a course has been charted for reconfiguring Nordic energy systems in a manner aligned with global climate priorities.

Abdul Latif Jameel is likewise a major advocate of the green economy, leveraging the power of private capital to advance the cause of renewable energy in the Middle East and beyond.  Its flagship energy business, Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV), manages a portfolio of wind, solar, hybrid and storage projects across Asia, Latin America, Europe and Australia.  Meanwhile, FRV’s innovation arm, FRV-X, aims to usher in the kind of next-generation technological solutions that can elevate COP28’s ambitious climate goals from drawing boards to reality.

FRV entered the Nordic renewable energy market in 2024 through an agreement with local Finnish business, Will & Must.  The partners will jointly develop solar power towards a pipeline of 600 MW of photovoltaic solar projects within three years.

Fady Jameel
Fady Jameel
Deputy President & Vice Chairman,
Abdul Latif Jameel
“We see in the Nordic countries vindication of the combined power of public and private sectors in creating a resilient, adaptable and future-proofed energy mix,” says Fady Jameel, Deputy President and Vice Chairman, International, Abdul Latif Jameel.
“If we seek global exemplars of effective environmental mitigation, the Nordic countries and their ‘race for renewables’ in many ways represent a blueprint for others to follow.  Together, they prove that when political, corporate and community powers are unified behind a common goal, meaningful change happens.”


[1] https://wisevoter.com/country-rankings/renewable-energy-by-country/

[2] https://www.reuters.com/business/autos-transportation/tesla-extends-lead-norway-evs-take-record-82-market-share-2024-01-02/

[3] https://www.ev-volumes.com/

[4] https://www.eia.gov/international/analysis/country/NOR

[5] https://www.enappsys.com/sweden-remains-europes-largest-net-power-exporter/

[6] https://il.boell.org/en/2022/11/15/green-transition-nordic-countries-lessons-sustainable-development

[7] https://www.iea.org/countries/finland

[8] https://il.boell.org/en/2022/11/15/green-transition-nordic-countries-lessons-sustainable-development

[9] https://www.norden.org/en/declaration/declaration-nordic-carbon-neutrality

[10] https://pub.norden.org/nordicenergyresearch2021-01/nordicenergyresearch2021-01.pdf

[11] https://www.iea.org/reports/hydropower-special-market-report/executive-summary

[12] https://www.downing.co.uk/insights/the-nordics-a-renewable-energy-powerhouse

[13] https://www.iea.org/reports/norway-2022/executive-summary

[14] https://www.woodmac.com/news/opinion/abundant-low-cost-renewables-will-transform-nordic-power-markets/

[15] https://www.woodmac.com/news/opinion/abundant-low-cost-renewables-will-transform-nordic-power-markets/

[16] https://www.rystadenergy.com/news/finland-denmark-and-sweden-leading-on-the-green-revolution

[17] https://windeurope.org/newsroom/news/norway-needs-more-onshore-and-offshore-wind-to-keep-up-with-growing-energy-demand/

[18] https://il.boell.org/en/2022/11/15/green-transition-nordic-countries-lessons-sustainable-development

[19] https://il.boell.org/en/2022/11/15/green-transition-nordic-countries-lessons-sustainable-development

[20] https://www.regjeringen.no/contentassets/07635c56b2824103909fab5f31f81469/offshore-wind-opportunities-for-the-norwegian-industry.pdf

[21] https://www.en-former.com/en/norway-a-sustainable-northern-power-house/

[22] https://www.fortum.com/newsroom/forthedoers-blogsolar-power-accelerate-green-transition-nordics/solar-power-accelerate-green-transition-nordics