02 April 2012
According to the most recent issue of the Monthly Energy Review (released on 28 March 2012) from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), with data through 31 December 2011, renewable energy sources expanded rapidly in the US between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2011 while substantially outpacing the growth rates of fossil fuels and nuclear power.
During this time, renewable energy sources (i.e., biofuels, biomass, geothermal, solar, water and wind) grew by 27.12%. In comparison, during the same three-year period, total domestic energy production increased by just 6.72% with natural gas and crude oil production growing by 13.66% and 14.27% respectively. Moreover, during the same period nuclear power declined by 1.99% and coal dropped by 7.16%.
Looking at all energy sectors (e.g., electricity, transportation, thermal), renewable energy sources accounted for 11.74% of domestic energy production in 2011 compared to 9.85% in 2008. In fact, renewable energy sources provided 10.90% more energy in 2011 than did nuclear power, although nuclear still provides a larger share of the nation's electricity. On the consumption side, which includes oil and other energy imports, renewable sources accounted for 9.29% of total US energy use during 2011.
During this period, geothermal grew by 15.63%, hydropower by 26.28%, solar by 28.09%, biofuels by 46.58% and wind by 113.92%. Only biomass dipped—by 1.21%. Hydropower accounted for 34.62% of domestic energy production from renewable sources in 2011, followed by biomass (26.75%), biofuels (22.20%), wind (12.75%), geothermal (2.42%), and solar (1.24%).
Looking at just the electricity sector, according to EIA's Electric Power Monthly (released on 29 February 2012) with data through 31 December 2011, net electrical generation by non-hydro renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, solar and wind) grew by 54.6% during these three years while conventional hydropower expanded by 27.6%. (The relevant charts from which the data are extrapolated are Tables 1.1, 1.1.A, ES1.A, and ES1.B.) Combined, electrical output from renewable energy sources was 36.5% greater for calendar year 2011 than it was for calendar year 2008. In comparison, between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2011, natural gas used in electrical generation grew by 15.1% while nuclear and coal dropped by 2.0% and 12.7%, respectively.
During 2011, hydro and non-hydro renewables combined accounted for 12.67% of net electrical generation compared to 9.25% in 2008. Comparing the 12 months of 2011 to the same time period in 2008, wind grew by 116.3%, solar by 110.0%, hydropower by 27.6%, geothermal by 12.5% and biomass by 3.1%. For all of 2011, non-hydro renewables accounted for 4.75% of net electrical generation while conventional hydropower accounted for 7.91%. However, non-hydro renewables have been growing rapidly and for the last quarter of 2011, they accounted for 5.5% of net US electrical generation. Among the non-hydro renewables contributing to net electrical generation in 2011, wind accounted for 61.4%, followed by biomass (29.1%), geothermal (8.6%) and solar (0.9%).
According to Ken Bossong, executive director of the Sun Day Campaign, a non-profit research and educational organisation that promotes sustainable energy technologies as cost-effective alternatives to nuclear power and fossil fuels, the numbers speak for themselves. The pro-renewable energy policies pioneered by the Obama Administration have generated dramatic growth rates during the past three years, vastly outpacing those of all other energy sources. The investments in sustainable energy made by the federal government, as well as state and private funders, have paid off handsomely, emphasising the short-sightedness of emerging proposals to slash or discontinue such support.