In the ongoing push for a cleaner and more sustainable energy society, growing popular and political support for renewables are two strong indicators of success. On the other hand, true progress is more accurately, and soberingly, gauged by hard data.
The good news for renewables is that, even by objective measures, they are steadily, but minutely, contributing to the nation’s overall generation of electricity, while coal is declining in market share.
According to the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), renewable power had a bustling year in 2012, even while fossil fuels, and energy generation declined overall. The EIA’s most recent “Electric Power Monthly” measures power generation by sector through December 2012.
The report reveals that renewable energy generation increased by nearly 13 percent in one year, from 194,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) in 2011 to 218,000 MWh in 2012. Meanwhile, generation from most fossil fuels declined during the same period, and electricity generation overall declined by a little more than 1 percent. Generation from natural gas was the lone exception to the pattern of declining fossil fuel generation, with an increase of 21 percent.
Looking at the data by industry confirms the transformation underway. Within the renewables sector, wind power increased by 16 percent, geothermal by 9 percent, biomass by 4.2 percent and wood-derived fuels by 0.26 percent. Solar power enjoyed the biggest increase, with a generation increase of 138 percent.
Finally, and most tellingly, renewables capitalized on this growth to capture a greater share of the nation’s total generation of electricity. In 2012, they accounted for about 5.4 percent of the total. That was an increase of 0.7 percent from 2011 and about 1.4 percent from 2010. In contrast, coal’s share of the nation’s total electricity generation has been declining steadily from 44.7 percent in 2010 to 37.4 percent in 2012.