Renewable Energy Use Up, Overall Energy Down In 2011
October 25, 2012

Renewable Energy Use Up, Overall Energy Down In 2011

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

As Americans consumed less energy last year than the year before, that energy was--more than ever before--generated by renewable energy sources, according to a series of flow charts released by the federally funded Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The laboratory said that a shift to more energy efficient technologies in the transportation and residential sectors was behind the drop in energy consumption, from 98 quadrillion BTUs, or quads, used in 2010 to 97.3 quads in 2011.

Meanwhile, the wind power sector saw the biggest jump in energy production, up from .92 quads in 2010 to 1.17 quads in 2011.

"Wind energy jumped significantly because, as in previous years, many new wind farms came online," said A.J. Simon, an LLNL energy systems analyst who develops the flow charts using the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration data. "This is the result of sustained investment in wind power."

The nation also saw an increase in hydroelectric power, which jumped from 2.51 quads in 2010 up to 3.17 quads in 2011. According to the LLNL, this was likely the result of heavy rains throughout much of last year that drove the generators at hydroelectric dams while maintaining a full water reservoir. The laboratory cited several previous wet years as evidence of this phenomenon.

The drop in energy consumption was tied directly to less use of fossil fuels, according to the LLNL charts. The fall in coal usage was particularly dramatic, from 20.8 quads in 2010 to 19.7 in 2011. Oil usage fell slightly and the use of natural gas bumped up incrementally from 24.6 to 24.9 quads.

"Sustained low natural gas prices have prompted a shift from coal to gas in the electricity generating sector," Simon said. "Sustained high oil prices have likely driven the decline in oil use over the past 5 years as people choose to drive less and purchase automobiles that get more miles per gallon."

The majority of these energy sources, about 39.2 quads, were used for electricity generation. Transportation, commercial, residential and industrial sectors consumed the remaining 58.1 quads that were used in 2011.

Simon also noted that many economic and supply forces are at work in the energy sector and these could have an effect on future uses of these energy sources.

"With the advent of shale gas, it appears that natural gas prices in the United States may remain lower than their historical averages for many years into the future," he said. "This has prompted many gas users in the industrial and electricity generating sector to switch from coal or oil to natural gas when it is technically possible, but might not have been economical at higher gas prices."