By Rick Laezman

Renewable energy sources have been making great strides toward a bigger share of the American energy market in recent years. However, 2001 was a disappointing year.

According to a report released by the Energy Information Agency (EIA), the US Department of Energy’s statistical branch, consumption of renewable energy reached a 12-year low in 2001. The Renewable Energy Annual 2001 reports a 12 percent drop in consumption to 5.7 quadrillion British Thermal Units (Btu). The decline brought renewable energy to six percent of U.S. energy consumption.

The report attributes the drop primarily to a 23-percent decrease in hydropower. This was caused by below normal precipitation levels in the Pacific Northwest. A faltering economy also reduced energy demand.

Because of the drop in hydropower, biomass (ethanol, wood waste, garbage and landfill gas) became the leading source of renewable energy at 50 percent. Hydropower dropped to 42 percent, followed by geothermal at six percent. Wind and solar each accounted for one percent of total renewable energy.

This realignment did not change the fact that almost all forms of renewable energy consumption experienced a decline. For example, biomass declined by three percent to 2.85 quadrillion Btu. The lone exception was wind power. It experienced a three and a half percent increase to .059 quadrillion Btu.

Generation of almost all forms of renewable energy declined at roughly the same rate as consumption. Again, wind power defied the trend. Wind power generation increased by more than three percent.

The wind power industry also experienced a dramatic increase in generating capacity, which was largely responsible for a 1,803-megawatt increase overall in renewable capacity from 94,938 to 96,741 Mw. The impact of this increase may not be seen right away, as the power generated by these new facilities may not be reported until the following year. " EC