Thursday, August 26, 2010

Americans Using Less Energy, More Renewables

energy-flow2009_650x360 Lawrence Livermore Laboratories toted up energy use last year (for 2008) and found a marked drop. This year’s version (for 2009) reveals a further drop:

The United States used significantly less coal and petroleum in 2009 than in 2008, and significantly more wind power. There also was a decline in natural gas use and increases in solar, hydro and geothermal power according to the most recent energy flow charts released by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

You’d be perfectly within your rights to say, It’s the economy, stupid, and that was the main takeaway from the Labs report last year. Not this time:

“Energy use tends to follow the level of economic activity, and that level declined last year. At the same time, higher efficiency appliances and vehicles reduced energy use even further,” said A.J. Simon, an LLNL energy systems analyst who develops the energy flow charts using data provided by the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration. “As a result, people and businesses are using less energy in general.”

Since no new nuclear plants went online in 2009, its numbers remain much the same – and although Livermore does look at carbon emissions – where nuclear energy shines out - in a different report, that’s not the goal here. Here, the interest is: coal down and wind up (and natural gas and nuclear energy holding steady). These elements will have an impact on the country’s carbon emissions profile, but we’ll have to wait for Livermore’s report on this a little later this year to see how it totes up.

Wind power increased dramatically in 2009 to .70 quads of primary energy compared to .51 in 2008. Most of that energy is tied directly to electricity generation and thus helps decrease the use of coal for electricity production.

The relatively tiny contribution of wind still represents a big year over year increase in a period where most sources drooped a little. Nuclear is 8.35 quads (down from 8.45 quads in 2008), natural gas 23.37 (down from 23.84) and coal 19.76 (drooping a lot from 22.42). A quad is a quadrillion BTUs and the total energy use in 2009 was 94.6 quads, down from 99.2 quads in 2008.  

So you can see this report as demonstrating the beneficial aspects of energy efficiency – as practiced by industry and individual – and in so doing providing considerable cheer all along the ideological spectrum. It shows progress being made without much government intervention but also shows government’s interest in promoting industries that help fulfill a policy objective.

A chart only a scientist could love. This is the visualization of the report. See here for a readable pdf version, but expect every last synapse in your brain to fry.

2 comments:

Joffan said...

There's something slightly weird about those numbers. I think hydro and wind input must have been recalculated to "add" imaginary thermal losses, which are then stripped out again. Otherwise hydro comes in at (2.66/12.08) ~ 22% of electricity, which I know is wrong, and wind is similarly higher than reality. So that 0.7quad of wind may be virtual quads, created from about 0.22 quad of electricity - the flip side of which is that nuclear's 8.35 quad is only about 2.8 quad of electricity.

Update... there it is in a footnote:
EIA reports flows for non-thermal resources (i.e. hydro, wind and solar) in BTU-equivalent values by assuming a typical fossil fuel plant "heat rate".

Wind replaces coal ?!??!!? said...

The Livermore report is wrong when it says that the increased wind production (very small in absolute quantity) offset coal electricity production. Wind is intermittent, so what it does is to reduce the consumption of the most expensive fuel (natural gas) in fossil plants with the lowest capital cost (simple Brayton or combined cycle).

Nuclear provides a direct substitute for coal electricity (including eliminating the need to build the coal plants).

Wind can only partially reduce the consumption of natural gas (but one still must spend money to build the natural gas plants to provide back-up).