US renewable energy use soared in 2012 – report

Wind made up 42% of newly installed electrical generation capacity in 2012, with solar and gas also increasing share

The US Wind Energy Association estimates 15 million homes can be powered by 45,100 wind turbines (Pic: Flickr/Bonita-La-Banane)

US use of renewable energy soared in 2012, according to data published by the USA government funded Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

Wind turbines, solar panels and natural gas saw sharp rises in popularity, contrasting with coal, which continues to lose market share.

In a statement LLNL energy systems analyst A.J. Simon said low gas prices had seen it gradually replace coal in the electricity generating sector.

He added that the growth of renewables was tied to falling costs of solar and wind systems, together with government incentives to invest in clean energy.

Renewables provided 49% of new electricity capacity in the US in 2012, and form a key part of President Barack Obama’s new climate action plan.

Existing coal and gas plants are likely to face tougher pollution limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a move Obama says will help the US to meet its pledge to cut emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020.

American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) statistics reveal there are 45,000 turbines currently operating in 39 US states, generating enough power for 15 million US homes.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) renewables are the “fastest-growing power generation sector” and could make up 25% of the global energy mix by 2018.

“As their costs continue to fall, renewable power sources are increasingly standing on their own merits versus new fossil fuel generation,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven in June.

“This is good news for a global energy system that needs to become cleaner and more diversified, but it should not be an excuse for government complacency, especially among OECD countries.”

Technology advances

The LLNL said “larger more efficient turbines” have been developed in response to government-sponsored incentives to invest in renewable energy.

Each year, the Laboratory releases energy flow charts that track the nation’s consumption of energy resources.

The LLNL also revealed the US used used 2.2 quadrillion British Thermal Units (BTU), or quads, less in 2012 than the previous year. A BTU is a unit of measurement for energy; 3,400 BTU is equivalent to about 1 kW-hr.

LLNL figures reveal the majority of energy use in 2012 was used for electricity generation (38.1 quads), followed by transportation, industrial, and residential consumption.

However, energy use in the residential, commercial and transportation sectors decreased while industrial energy use increased slightly.

Figures from the US Energy Information Agency (EIA) released yesterday indicate that coal still underpins the US electricity sector, and suggest it may be making a comeback.

Total coal consumption was up 11% in first-quarter 2013, compared to the same period in 2012.

It has provided 40% of total generation over the past five months, up from 32% in April 2012, when gas prices hit a record low.

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