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Clean Power Map taken from EIA Monthly

Published on August 29th, 2014 | by Roy L Hales

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Renewable Electricity Is Up 14%, But Are We Winning?

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August 29th, 2014 by
 

EIA electricity statistics for the first six months of 2014 

Originally Published in the ECOreport

Listening to the percentages, it sounds like America’s usage of green energy sources made strong gains during the first half of 2014. They supplied 10.4% more electricity than last year. Utility scale solar is up almost 116%. Renewable electricity is up 14%, but are we winning?

Screenshot-2014-08-28-08.05.40

Graph depicting selected electricity sources, renewable electricity is up 14% overall, drawn using EIA statistics, June 2014 YTD – Roy L Hales

Impressive as these gains sound when viewed as percentages, there is still little perceivable drop in fossil fuel usage.

Coal is America’s preferred fuel. Though natural gas leads the nation in terms of installations, its electricity production actually dropped 1.3%. Despite strict regulation and the fact that no new coal plants are coming online – coal usage is up 5.5%! The reason: coal is cheaper.

Though half of the responding utilities in a recent utilities poll said they were replacing their coal and nuclear facilities with natural gas (another fossil fuel!), this choice is dictated by necessity rather than preference.

 

Yet America’s energy portrait is changing. Three colors dominate the map above, which depicts installations for this coming year. The dominant color in the West is yellow (utility-scale solar). Green (wind energy) is strong in the central states. The reddish-brown spots in Texas and the northeast are natural gas plants. There is a single grey (coal) facility in Mississippi.

Most of the grey dots are found on another map: retiring generating units.

Close to 24% of America’s coal powered plants do not conform to the new EPA regulations. As many as 16% may retire and not undergo costly retrofits, with most of these located in the eastern half of America.

Natural gas plants have been replacing coal since 2000. According to the EIA, by 2035 LNG fueled plants should supplant coal.

The renewable sector should eventually supplant natural gas. They have already, in terms of installations.  53.8% of new installations up to the end of July were from “green” sectors, as opposed to 45.9% LNG.

According to Allan Hoffman, a retired senior executive from the DOE, the renewable sector could be supplying 50-60% of America’s energy by 2050. (He believes that natural gas will still be in use.)

The result will be a healthier America.

The EPA calculate that recent changes to carbon pollution standards, alone, “will avert up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks every year. The value of the air quality improvements for people’s health alone totals $37 billion to $90 billion each year. That means that for every dollar spent to reduce this pollution, Americans get $3-9 in health benefits.”

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About the Author

is the editor of the ECOreport (www.theecoreport.com), a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of North America and writes for both Clean Techncia and PlanetSave. He is a research junkie who has written hundreds of articles since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.



  • No way

    You have to be pretty optimistic to be able to see anything but a knock-out win in the first round by fossil fuels from this.
    The increased generation of coal power being five times as much as the total generation of utility scale solar power.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Just messing around with the EIA first half 2014 energy statistics. Plotted up wind and solar…

    • No way

      How about putting them on a graph with the Y-axis going from 0-100%?

      • Bob_Wallace

        When graphing one has to pick a scale that displays the data.

        A 0 to 100% vertical axis would hide the change in rate of instillation.

        Of course if one wanted to hide progress ….

        • No way

          It’s rather the other way around. Choosing your axis carefully can make you show anything and make anything look big no matter how small it really is.
          It’s a common trick by statisticians.

          • Bob_Wallace

            “It’s a common trick by statisticians.”

            Oh, bull. Statisticians work hard to present data in honest and understandable ways. People who don’t like what the data shows like to make comments like yours.

            You wish for everything to be shown in the worst light.

            One can read the level wind and solar have reached on the grid from the numbers on the vertical. Nothing would be gained by expanding the graph to 100%. The information would be squashed.

          • Gary

            How about a 100% vertical axis where you extrapolate the recent growth into the future?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Hard to tell what future slopes will look like. I can easily imagine that we might convert a couple percent per year from fossil fuel to wind and a couple more to solar.

            We did 0.6% with wind in 2011, 2012, and 2013. We’re on track to switch an additional 1% in 2014. Seems to me that we could easily double wind installations per year. We’ve not even started in the SE.

            Solar will likely fall a lot more in price over the next couple/few years and then it might really take off. It’s so early with solar that it’s really hard to predict what the ‘steady state’ installation rate might be.

            If we start converting as much as 4% a year then coal is a dead duck. We’d do in coal in a decade and start in on NG.

            But perhaps something else will happen….

            Just for fun, solar is now doing the 0.1, 0.2, 0.4 type growth that wind went through about ten years ago. But the price of solar is coming down faster than wind’s price came down.

            Wind, at 5% of our total electricity generation is a player. Hydro is only 7% and we treat hydro with the reverence of a full partner when it comes to generation.

            I’m looking forward to plotting numbers during the coming years.

          • Mike Shurtleff

            Ah, now you’re talking.

            http://cleantechnica.com/2014/07/22/exponential-growth-global-solar-pv-production-installation/ – July 2014
            “The Continuing Exponential Growth Of Global Solar PV Production & Installation”

          • Mike Shurtleff

            For Global Solar PV alone:

          • Mike Shurtleff

            GGraph 1

          • Bob_Wallace

            Right click on graph. “Save as” to a folder on your machine. Then click on the icon, lower left of Reply box and select the image.

            If it’s not an image, say part of a pdf file, then do a Print Screen, open an image editor (FastStone works great and is free), crop everything else away, and save as .jpeg or .png.

          • Mike Shurtleff

            …or is the common trick to do what you suggest?
            Exponential growth defies starting from a small base. Lower-cost leads to exponential growth replacement of incumbent technologies. Eventually you will see and understand this.
            The argument that Wind and Solar PV represent too small of percentage to contribute is not valid, see link on Australian Wind/Solar I gave above. See new plan for Hawaii. …and as costs of Wind, Solar PV, and Storage continue to fall…
            Still can’t see it? Some people are slow to see through paradigms they hold dear.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Last year wind produced 4.1% of US electricity. During the first five months of this year it rose to a 5% share. Two more years at this growth rate and wind will surpass hydro’s contribution, 6.6% in 2013.

            How long do you think people will be able to continue using the “too small of percentage to contribute”?

  • patb2009

    PV is dramatically outgrowing all other energy sources, that is winning.

  • Roger Pham

    One way to speed up of RE market penetration is perhaps the use of micro-grid, initially in new housing development, where there are adequate solar and wind.

    So, a group of houses will comprise a micro-grid, each house will have solar PV pre-built and pre-wired into the roof. THey will share one or many nearby wind turbines and share a common battery storage and also share a Nat Gas generator for winter power and heating. A DC micro-grid can be simpler and can better incorporate various inputs with DC-DC converter. Long-range BEV’s with plug-outs will be allowed to participate in further levelizing fluctuating RE’s output in order to minimize utilization of the Nat GAs generetor except for winter heat and power generation wherein efficiency of NG utilization approaches 100%, and to avoid wasting of RE in longer periods of RE excess, The long-range BEV’s will be able to sell off the excess of local RE power to at-work charging plug for commercial day-time usage.

    Whether this will be cheaper than grid electricity or not is debatable. However, affluent folks will prefer this due to the reliability and exclusivity…So, rich communities will be early adopters, kinda like Tesla buyers…then when the Tesla Model 3 will come out, middle-income folks will follow. With high volume of adoption, price will come out. This is also analogous to the shunting of public transportation in favor of private transportation, or the use of micro PC to replace the mainframe dinosaurs!

  • BtotheT

    In the Charlie Sheen addicted to something killing us way, yes we are ‘WINNING’

  • Charlotte Omoto

    Am I correct in thinking that residential solar is not counted in this? I think that might make a big difference in the future.

  • JamesWimberley

    “According to Allan Hoffman, a retired senior executive from the DOE, the
    renewable sector could be supplying 50-60% of America’s energy by 2050.” (Does he mean electricity?)

    Such projections are woefully inadequate. Even Germany, aiming at 60% renewable energy (all energy) by 2050, is well under the need. We have to get to zero carbon emissions, meaning 100% renewable energy, before 2050, which means 100% renewable electricity soon after 2040. Fortunately events are not dictated by cautious old farts like him and me. Cheap, cheap solar and wind will crumple up coal like a paper bag.

    • Bob_Wallace

      “A leaked draft of the (IPCC) report sent to governments in December suggests that in order to keep global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) by the end of the century — the stated goal of international climate talks — emissions need to fall by 40-70 percent by 2050.”

      http://www.evwind.es/2014/04/05/what-is-the-future-of-fossil-fuel/44609

      100% renewables by 2050 would be great, but apparently not absolutely necessary in order to hold off extreme climate change.

      BTW, that’s 40% to 70% from 2005 levels. The US is already down 10% from 2005 with electricity. And on a guaranteed path to a 50% cut in car/small truck CO2 emissions due to PBO’s negotiated higher CAFE requirements.

      I’m guessing that by 2035 most of our new car sales will be EVs. The ICEVs still sold will likely be a lot more efficient than those of today. By 2050 we could easily be 90% EV and 100% renewable charging.

      • Matt

        Average mpg in the US would jump, way past the CAFE goal, if we would just add the $0.50/gal to the gas tax needed to cover the hole in the highway fund; and then ramp the gas tax up a dine amy time income from it drops below 2012 levels. In 10-20 years we will need to move to have a per car or per mile charge since gas use will drop. And need higher charge based on weight. Those massive semi do many many times more damage to the roads. Wear is no linear with weight.
        Also, while >2C might be we are f**ked time. Even 2C will cost more than a carbon tax a 5 times larger than anyone has recommended.

      • http://fractalicious.ca/ Adam Grant

        I haven’t seen anyone address the question of gas station economics once a significant fraction of cars go electric. If even 10% of cars cease to spend money on gasoline / diesel, gas station operators will be financially stressed.
        – As the fraction of cars shopping for gas declines, the number of gas stations will fall, and the markup charged by surviving gas stations will rise, hastening the transition to electric.
        – Efficient gas / diesel and hybrid vehicles will have increasingly long ranges, which will tend to reduce the need to fill up with higher-priced but convenient gas.
        – An increasing fraction of customers will use gas price mapping applications, driving down profits.
        – Self-driving vehicles that can refuel themselves will wait for the optimal time of day or week to refuel, and when not carrying a human can choose a gas station without time pressure.
        – Drivers and intelligent vehicles may begin to participate in automated online fuel auctions run by the refiners or large brokers, again squeezing profits.

        • dgaetano

          I very much agree with this. Gas has the best economy of scale it’s ever going to have right now, it’s only downhill from here.

          One thing though: self-driving vehicles that can refuel themselves will be called EVs. Nobody will ever build a gas one (think induction charging vs. some sort of crazy mechanical self docking nozzle thingy).

        • patb2009

          Even with 100 KW chargers, a urban commuter car will need some 20 minutes to recharge that will present opportunities for charging stations to move into other services. (Dry Cleaning, shoe shining, coffee sales, snacks, chrome polishing) a charging station will need ways to keep consumers interested. Perhaps a quick interior cleaning and detailing job,

        • Carl Borrowman

          The gas stations will have to evolve and implement EV charging stations in order to survive. Drivers still need air for their tires, water for their wipers, and munchies/refreshments for the road. The most popular ones will probably be like they are now: have a convenience store inside, possibly a restaurant/cafe/hotel (/s) next door. Charging to 80% can now be done at 20 minutes, so I’m guessing 5-10 minutes within the next decade given battery advancments, which isn’t that far off from filling large tanks from empty today.

          • No way

            70-90% of the gas stations will die when EV’s start to take over and we are already seeing a lot of gas stations closing because of fuel efficiency.
            There will only be enough business for a few, but those can of course have air for tires and such.

          • Mike Shurtleff

            “Imagine that, a filling station that produced all it’s own power.”
            Tesla is already headed there with some of their stations. This includes use of a larger version of their storage battery as a power reservoir.
            You know it’s a disruptive change when you’re imagining something neat that could happen next and then find out it’s already being done.

        • Carl Borrowman

          Another path to extending gas station life is an advanced enough algae fuel that can replace gasoline entirely with hardly any changes to the existing infrastructure. Advanced fuel cell tech may go hand in hand with this, as well as battery technology.

          http://www.environmentalleader.com/2014/08/21/algae-systems-plant-produces-clean-water-energy/

          • Mike Shurtleff

            “Another path to extending gas station life is an advanced enough algae fuel that can replace gasoline entirely with hardly any changes to the existing infrastructure.”
            OK, why when EVs/PHEVs are already dropping to a reasonable cost, soon a lower cost than ICEVs, and charging stations are already built or being built in so many areas? Bio-fuel for fertilizers, industrial plastics, and other such products, yes. For vehicles? Why? How will they be able to compete with EVs + renewables?

          • Carl Borrowman

            Again, the existing infrastructure.
            It will continue to be used for the next 10-20 years at least regardless.
            Instead of continuing to use fossil fuels, why not use an algae strain that produces less emissions if not zero, cleans wastewater, and is produced through a net negative process while cleaning the air at the same time?

            The goal is not to compete with EV’s, it is to replace fossil fuel during the slow transition to EV’s.

            Algae fuel is a renewable.

          • Mike Shurtleff

            I have no problem with bio-fuel from algae. Yes it is renewable. If cost is not competitive it will not thrive. Can algae out-compete fossil fuel in the market?

          • Carl Borrowman
      • JamesWimberley

        Thanks for the correction, Bob. It remains true that stabilizing the climate requires zero net emissions, only the IPCC (with an institutionally conservative, anti-alarmist bias) give us a little more time. Hansen and 350.org give us less (link): a remaining fossil fuel budget of 500 gigatons.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I agree, to stabilize we need to reach zero net emissions.

          But that’s a very difficult goal and having a ‘way point’ goal that we can reach with the generation alive today is needed, I think.

          Hopefully we’ll hit 70% reduction before 2050 and a new goal for zero net can be set. And by then we might have technologies that could sequester the extra GHG our generation created.

          We’re going to stick future generations with a different planet than what we inherited. One mostly without glaciers, with higher seas, No beaches except ones they might create. Less land surface. More extreme weather.

          Right now minimizing the amount of hurt we pass along is something within our reach.

    • Will E

      true
      the dollar goes where the dollar is made.
      wind and solar is where the dollar is made
      . It works it is cheap.
      and makes a fortune for rooftop and utility scale.
      time for communities to start make solar and wind money for their voters.

  • DGW

    So as renewable energy displaces other power sources, coal will only become cheaper thereby assuring its long, dirty future ahead.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Not really. When it comes to coal, fuel is cheap but plants aren’t. Coal plants have an average lifespan of about 40 years. In the US our coal plants are old and will have to be replaced with something. That something is likely to be largely cheaper renewables. I suppose the rest of the world’s coal plants are going to age out as well.

      Plus more advanced societies are simply going to close coal plants. And not help developing countries to build any.

    • GCO

      Also, more renewables will also call for more flexible generation. Coal plants will be at a disadvantage vs e.g. NG or hydro, which can ramp up/down much faster.
      See http://cleantechnica.com/2014/08/08/rmi-blows-lid-baseload-power-myth-video/

    • Ronald Brakels

      What Bob said, and GCO. Coal is already basically free in Victoria in Australia. There’s a stranded brown coal deposit the size of a small American state there. (We’ve almost dug down deep enough to make out the words “Holocene Killer” tattooed on its side.) And we’re certainly not going to be building any new coal plants there. I’m in South Australia and at noon we’re going to be getting about a third or more of our total electricity use from rooftop solar. Already demand for grid electricity is well below what it was at three or four in the morning. This is not good for the economics of coal. Coal is a dead man coughing.

    • patb2009

      as the price of coal falls, production will fall, only the lowest cost producers can survive in that environment.

  • GCO

    Long way to go still, but we seem to be (slowly) heading in the right direction.
    At least it’s nice to see this “planned” map peppered with wind and solar, and the “retiring” one showing mostly coal plants.

  • MrL0g1c

    So how long would natural gas last if every coal power and nuclear station in the world closed down and the majority of the energy was supplied by gas instead? A lot less. At the Wikipedia stated 58 years of supply from 2011 at 2011 level of consumption, we could run out of cheap gas by 2042.

    The Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) has estimated “the planet’s
    economically accessible uranium resources, reactors could run more than
    200 years at current rates of consumption.”

    So if we attempted to run the world off of nuclear, we’d have 20 years worth!!

    So we’d better work out how to run the world off of renewables otherwise we’ll be going back to coal within our lifetimes.

    • Vensonata

      Brilliant! Thanks.

    • patb2009

      at a high enough price there will be more oil, gas and uranium but
      it won’t be cheap

      • MrL0g1c

        If anyone wanted to pay that higher price, but why would you when the alternatives are cheaper and cleaner?

        We need more investment in wave, geothermal, compressed air, pumped hydro etc.

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