On Renewable Fuels, the Public is Ahead of the Beltway
While climate-change legislation remains stalled in the Senate, American businesses and individuals have started the switch from fossil to renewable fuels on their own. And the price of energy seems to be a factor in making it happen.
The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory calculates the amounts of energy generated and consumed each year by Americans, showing the overall sources, uses, and efficiency. The 2009 audit published in late August 2010 shows Americans in 2009 using 94.6 quadrillion BTUs (abbreviated as "quads"), a 4.6% drop from the 99.2 quads used in 2008. All sectors of the economy ratcheted down their energy consumption. Industrial use declined the most, with a 9 percent drop, followed by 1 to 3 percent decreases by transportation, residential, and commercial users.
While the U.S. in 2009 may have reduced its overall use of energy, the change in the mix of energy sources tells the real story. In 2009 Americans increased their use of most renewable fuels, yet at the same time cut their use of fossil fuels like coal and petroleum. The total of all renewable fuel sources — wind, solar, hydro, and biomass — moved up from 6.9 quads in 2008 to 7.4 quads in 2009, a 6.4 percent increase. Wind, solar, and hydro power generation increased substantially from 2008 to 2009, with gains of 37.3, 22.2, and 9.4 percent respectively. Biomass-generated power was the exception, which stayed exactly at 3.88 quads from 2008 to 2009.
Use of coal as an energy source, on the other hand, fell from 22.4 quads in 2008 to 19.8 quads in 2009, an 11.9 percent drop. Use of petroleum, mainly for transportation, dropped by 5.0 percent in 2009. Natural gas and nuclear power stayed about the same from 2008 to 2009.