Yes, renewables are slowly gaining ground in the US

Posted by Pete Danko, EarthTechling

Americans used less energy in 2012 than they did in 2011, and the energy they did use was more likely to come from cleaner sources than it used to, as natural gas, solar and wind made gains and coal declined.

These are all things we knew, more or less, but they’re now captured in a form at once provocative and easily digestible with the 2012 U.S. Energy Flow Chart from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

2012 energy glow chart

image via Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

I’ve squeezed a version of it into our little image space here in EarthTechling, but the best way to experience this remarkable document is to spend some quality time with the high-resolution version, preferably on a large monitor. (Hardcore energy geeks will want to do a side-by-side comparison with the 2011 version.)

While renewables remain a very small part of the energy picture, they are making gains, with solar’s contribution rising 48 percent from 0.158 to 0.235 quards, and wind’s contribution rising 16 percent, from 1.17 quads to 1.36. Together, wind and solar mustered 1.6 out of 95.1 quads used in 2012, or 1.67 percent of the energy consumed, up from 1.36 percent in the previous year.

Coal was the big loser, as mentioned (down from 19.7 quads to 17.4), as electricity generators switched to cheaper natural gas. The vast bulk  of the increased natural gas used in 2012 went into generation (as opposed to home heating use).

Another electricity source that declined in 2012: nuclear. San Onofore in California went offline, and it’s now being shut down, and a handful of other nuke unite are joining it in mothballs. “There are a couple of nuclear plants under construction, but they won’t come on for another few years,” LLNL energy systems analyst A.J. Simon noted in a statement.

Three of the four sectors – residential, commercial and transportation – used less energy in 2012 than in 2011, with industrial alone seeing an increase (from 23.6 to 23.9 quads). The drop in residential use was particularly striking, falling 7.5 percent, from 11.4 to 10.6 quads.

* Pete Danko, EarthTechling