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Posted by NNadir in Environment/Energy
Tue Aug 01st 2006, 09:52 AM
Renewable energy in the EIA data at which I have been looking generally lumps the non-hydro renewables under a single heading "biomass/other." This has been unsatisfying for establishing real trends since the various types of renewable energy we discuss here, solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal vary so widely in availability, cost, and scale.

Recently I came across data on the EIA website that gives a more detailed picture of the trends in renewable energy and I thought I would discuss the trends we have seen in the last 14 years.

The data is here:

Electrical energy demand increased from 1992 to 2005 by 30.9% overall.

This of course does not mean that conservation is a failure, since the situation may have been far worse without conservation. Some of the shift may represent energy demand shifted from other quarters to the electric sphere. Some of the increase also derives from other effects, especially things like the introduction of the personal computer and other new electronic devices, like cell phones and video games, all of which add up.

I have crunched the numbers a bit, and identified the following information:

The non hydro renewable portion has more or less kept up it's share of the electrical generation, but still remains in percentage terms, a very small fraction of the electrical generation in this country. In fact the portion of electrical energy produced by renewables has decreased slightly since 1992, 1992 being the year in which renewables produced their maximum percentage of total US electrical energy demand, 2.39%. The year in this period during which renewables were minimized was 2001, when renewables accounted for 2.01% of the electricity. In the most recent completed year, 2005, renewables represented 2.28% of electrical energy, and have almost recovered the position in which they were in 1992.

It is interesting to break the matter down into individual types of renewable energy.

Wood:: The only form of renewable energy that has represented an average greater than 1% of total US energy demand in this period is wood fired electricity. It has averaged 1.04% of renewable energy since 1992, 1992 also being the year for which its contribution was maximized, at 1.18% of overall energy. In 2005 that percentage was 0.94%.

Waste: Whether this is truly a "renewable" form of energy is questionable, since much of our waste -plastic is petroleum based, but there is certainly plenty of garbage to burn. This is the second largest form of energy included in the renewable category. It's average in percentage terms is 0.60% of overall US electrical energy generation. In 1992 the percentage was 0.58% and the maximal contribution was in 1997 when it produced 0.62% of US electrical energy generation.

Geothermal: The use of geothermal energy in the United States as a percentage of overall energy is declining. The average use over the 1992-2005 period in percentage terms was 0.41% of overall US electrical energy generation. The year it's percentage was maximized was 1993, when it produced 0.53% In 2005, it produced 0.37%, about the same percentage it has produced since 1999.

Solar: Solar energy in my perception generates the most discussion here in the DU E&E forum which I find astounding, since it is by far the most trivial form of electrical generation - at least grid based - there is. The average amount of solar energy in percentage terms has remained nearly constant over the 1992 to 2005 period, where the average contribution is 0.014% of total US electrical energy production. It has not varied by more than 0.001% in any single year.. The highest years in this period were 1994-1998, when solar electricity represent 0.015% of total electrical energy production. The lowest year was 2005, when it represented 0.013% of electrical energy production.

Wind: Wind is still a small form of energy but in terms of growth in percentage terms, it is by far the most promising form of renewable energy. The average production of renewable electricity from wind over the 1992-2005 period was 0.170% of electrical energy but the highest year was 2005, when it represented 0.36% of total US electrical energy production. The lowest year was 1998 when it represented 0.08% of electrical energy, slightly lower than 1992, when it was 0.09% of electrical energy produced in the United States.

Thus the ability of renewables to maintain a percentage of around 2-3% of the growing total electrical energy produced in the United States over the last 14 years is mostly attributable to the growth of wind power, a form of energy that we all hope will continue to provide larger and larger percentages of our electrical energy demand. Geothermal production is not keeping pace with electrical demand, solar is stagnant, wood is slightly declining and garbage burning remains constant.

For reference here are the other forms of energy and their average percentages for electrical generation over this period:

Coal: 51.4%. Petroleum liquids: 2.7%. Natural Gas: 15.4% Petroleum Coke: 0.4%. Nuclear: 19.6% Hydroelectric 8.0%.

My view is that renewables have the best shot at displacing natural gas and maybe petroleum. They have some ways to go before accomplishing that.

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