Renewable Energy Sources On the Rise
Each year the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) releases energy flow charts in an effort to track the United States' consumption of energy resources. So what seems to be the trend from the past couple of years? Well, renewable energy is on the upswing.
Compared to 2011, Americans used more natural gas, solar panels and wind turbines and less coal to generate electricity in 2012, according to the LLNL charts.
Natural gas use is also up particularly in the electricity generation sector, where it has basically substituted directly for coal, while sustained low natural gas prices have prompted a shift from coal to gas in the electricity generating sector, according to A.J. Simon, an LLNL energy systems analyst.
The reasons why we are turning to renewables isn't purely environmental as the rise in renewables is tied to both prices (the underlying cost of solar panels and wind turbines has gone down) and policy (government incentives to installers of equipment or renewable energy targets in various states), Simon said.
Overall, Americans used 2.2 quadrillion BTU, or quads, less in 2012 than the previous year (BTU or British Thermal Unit is a unit of measurement for energy; 3,400 BTU is equivalent to about 1 kW-hr).
Out of the renewables, wind power saw the highest percentage gains, going from 1.17 quads produced in 2011 up to 1.36 quads in 2012. New wind farms continue to come on line with bigger, more efficient turbines that have been developed in response to government-sponsored incentives to invest in renewable energy.
Solar jumped from 0.158 quads in 2011 to 0.235 quads in 2012. This can be attributed to declining prices of photovoltaic panels.
The charts also show that 2012 is the first year in at least a decade where there has been a measurable decrease in nuclear energy.
"It is likely to be a permanent cut as four nuclear reactors recently went offline (two units at San Onofre in California as well as the power stations at Kewaunee in Wisconsin and Crystal River in Florida)," Simon said. "There are a couple of nuclear plants under construction, but they won't come on for another few years."
Coal and oil use dropped in 2012 while natural gas use jumped to 26 quads from 24.9 quads the previous year. There is a direct correlation between a drop in coal electricity generation and the jump in electricity production from natural gas.
Read more at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Wind turbine image via Shutterstock.