The latest energy flow charts from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) show the United States is increasingly using solar and wind power. The charts also show energy consumption in the residential and commercial markets is falling, but overall consumption rose about one-half percent, a creeping trend in recent years.
In 2017, solar and wind power accounted for a small percentage (2.1 percent and 6.3 percent, respectively) of the total electricity generation. However, solar grew by 32 percent and wind grew by 11 percent. Hydroelectric generation also saw a 12 percent increase. Every other source of electricity declined or stayed the same.
“These rates of growth are due to continued low prices for [solar] panels, economies of scale in installations and favorable policies for renewable energy,” said A.J. Simon, associate program leader for the LLNL’s water security and technologies, in a press release.
Recent policies enacted by the Trump administration could alter the trend, however. For instance, in January, the administration placed a tariff of 30 percent on imported solar panels, and at the end of May, the administration released a memo that revealed intentions to bail out coal and nuclear plants under the justification of national security, because such plants, the administration argues, have fuel stores that are susceptible to attack.
Despite these policies, experts are still optimistic about the growth of renewable energies. GTM Research amended its predictions down for 2018–2022 by 13 percent, but the research firm still anticipates the solar industry to double in the next five years.
"States with favorable solar policies can continue to grow their workforces," said Ed Gilliland, senior director of the Solar Foundation. "Strong public policies that encourage solar energy growth can help mitigate the impact of the tariffs."
For instance, California seems to be going all in on solar power. In May, it announced plans to require all new low-rise residential buildings after January 2020 to include rooftop solar panels.
In 2017, electricity generation from natural gas and coal declined, as it has since 2007. According to the LLNL, coal generation is in decline because of its environmental harms and high cost to operate. The LLNL also stated the United States added more natural gas capacity in 2017 but used less of it because of declining demand and a growing supply from renewables.
The LLNL attributes the lower demand to a relatively mild summer. However, the data show a continuing decline in electricity consumption in recent years due to energy-efficiency initiatives.
Of note is the huge amount of "rejected energy" calculated at 66.4 percent of all electricity generation. The LLNL defines rejected energy as that which is lost through waste heat. This data point suggests there is still much progress to be made in energy efficiency from the generating plant to the facility or home.