Renewable energy use continues to rise

Jul 23, 2013

In the United States, we’re using more renewable energy than we were a few years ago.

A.J. Simon is the group leader for energy with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The lab just released a chart outlining the nation’s energy use for the year 2012.

“We are significantly expanding our use of wind energy, the technology for wind turbines has come a long way in the past decade or so, and both federal and state policy in terms of renewable portfolio standards as well as financial incentives have encouraged a lot of utilities to install a lot of wind power so we’re seeing huge growth in the generation of electricity from wind," he says.

He says there’s been steady growth in the use of wind power over the past seven years. Simon notes that his department creates the charts based on data from the federal Energy Information Administration.

Here's an excerpt from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's website:

Wind power saw the highest 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 also jumped from 0.158 quads in 2011 to 0.235 quads in 2012.  Extraordinary declines in prices of photovoltaic panels, due to global oversupply, drove this shift.

In Michigan, utilities are working to get 10% of their electricity sales from renewable sources by 2015.

Simon says nationally, we’re also seeing more solar panels on homes and businesses. That’s partly due to federal and state incentives, and partly because solar panels are getting much less expensive.

“There have been gigantic price declines in photovoltaics, mostly due to oversupply from Asian manufacturers. I expect that as the market equalizes over the next couple of years you may actually see the price going back up just a little bit. Although there’s a lot of technology pressure that will continue to push the price down as some of the newer thin film technologies come online,” he says.

In Michigan, we get more than half of our electricity from coal.

But Simon says some coal-burning power plants in the U.S. have started burning natural gas because it’s been so cheap.

“So for coal plants who were having trouble meeting emissions standards, looking at very, very low natural gas prices which were really at historic lows in 2011 and 2012, switching from coal to natural gas to fuel the electricity grid made a lot of economic sense.”

He says most of the energy we used in the U.S. last year went for our electricity needs.