Renewable Energy Production Surpasses Nuclear in U.S.
In the first quarter of 2011, renewable energy production in the United States surpassed nuclear production in overall quantity and percentage. Also, the percentage of natural gas is growing slowly, while coal is declining.
Entrenched energy industries like to say that renewable energy can never provide a significant amount of U.S. energy needs. And while it’s true that some technologies still face barriers to widespread implementation and others, while technically renewable, might not be very green, renewables as a percentage of U.S. energy generation are creeping up steadily — and not just in California, with its target of 33 percent renewables by 2020.
In the first three months of 2011, renewable energy — hydroelectric, geothermal, solar/PV, wind, and biomass — made up 11.7 percent of the U.S. energy production mix, surpassing nuclear at 11.1 percent. The same period last year, nuclear was 11.6 percent, and renewables 10.6, according to a June report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (Table 1.2).
“The rise in conventional hydroelectric generation was by far the largest absolute “fuel-specific” increase as it was up 10,759 thousand megawatthours, or 52.2 percent,” according to Electric Power Monthly. This was largely due to heavy spring rains in Washington, Oregon, and California, which accounted for 71.5 percent of the national rise.
However, environmentalists find objectionable the two biggest technologies that make up the renewables sector: hydroelectric power at 35 percent and biomass at 48 percent.
While large hydroelectric power doesn’t emit emissions (at least not after accounting for the materials and energy expended in building it), it has harmful impacts on river ecosystems and has therefore fallen out of favor as a power source in the developed world.
As for biomass, there are many types of feedstocks, and each much be evaluated individually for its emissions profile, it’s water footprint, and other considerations, such as whether farm fields or forests need that material to decompose in place to retain soil or ecosystem function.
Wind was next highest at 13 percent of renewables, or 1.5 percent of total U.S. energy production, up from 1.1 percent the same time last year.
This represents a 20.4 percent increase from March 2010, and the third-largest fuel-specific increase, according to the report. “Wyoming, California, and Illinois had the largest gains, but the increase was widespread,” it said.
Natural gas plus natural gas plant liquids were 32.9 percent of U.S. production in the first quarter, a bit up over last year (32.7) and 2009 (32.4).
But overall U.S. generation was up 2.0 percent from March 2010 to March 2011, so in spite of small percentage gains, “natural gas-fired generation showed the second-largest increase over March 2010 as it was up 5.0 percent or 3,131 thousand megawatthours,” said the report. “Increased gas-fired generation in Pennsylvania and Ohio accounted for 78.8 percent of the national jump in gas-fired generation.” It would seem the recent hype about shale gas reserves is bearing some fruit — well, some gas.
Coal is declining, with 29 percent the first quarter of 2011, down from 29.4 percent the same time last year, and 31.1 percent during the same period in 2009.