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Published on August 29th, 2012 | by Stephen Lacey


Renewable Electricity Nearly Doubles with Obama in Office

August 29th, 2012 by  

Non-hydro renewable electricity generation has nearly doubled since President Obama took office, reaching 5.75 percent of net electricity, according to figures from the Energy Information Administration.

In 2008, before Obama entered the White House, non-hydro resources like solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass represented just over 3 percent of generation. Today, they total nearly 6 percent.

Ken Bossong of the Sun Day Campaign has been meticulously following EIA generation figures over the years. In his assessment of the figures below, Bossong offers an historical perspective:

During 2008, the last full year of the Bush Administration, non-hydro renewables accounted for 3.06% of net electrical generation with an average monthly output of 10,508 gigawatthours. By mid-2012, the average monthly electrical generation from non-hydro renewables had grown by 78.70% to 18,777 gigawatthours. Comparing monthly electrical output in 2008 versus 2012, solar has expanded by 285.19%, wind by 171.72%, and geothermal by 13.53%. However, electrical generation from biomass dropped by 0.56%.

According to the latest issue of the monthly “Energy Infrastructure Update” published by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects with data for the first half of 2012, 229 renewable energy projects accounted for more than 38% of new electrical generation capacity (not to be confused with actual generation). This includes 50 wind energy projects (2,367 MW), 111 solar energy projects (588 MW), 59 biomass projects (271 MW), 5 geothermal projects (87 MW), and 4 water power projects (11 MW).

New renewable energy electrical generating capacity was more than double that of coal (2 new units totaling 1,608 MW). No new nuclear capacity came on line during the first half of 2012. However, 40 new natural gas units came on line with 3,708 MW of capacity (42% of the total). Renewable energy sources now account for 14.76% of total installed operating generating capacity (water-8.66%; wind-4.30%, biomass-1.23%, geothermal-0.31%, solar**-0.26%). This is more than nuclear (9.16%) but less than natural gas (41.83%) and coal (29.66%). The balance comes from waste heat (0.07%).

As natural gas and renewable energy development has surged, net generation from coal has fallen substantially. According to the EIA figures, coal-fired electricity has dropped 20 percent since May of 2011. (The decline in domestic coal is mostly due to plants switching to natural gas, according to the EIA — not EPA regulations).

Obama himself acknowledged the surge in renewable energy yesterday during a campaign event at Colorado State University:

“You believed we could use less foreign oil and reduce the carbon pollution that threatens our planet. And in just four years, we have doubled the generation of clean, renewable energy like wind and solar. We developed new fuel standards for our cars so that cars are going to get 55 miles a gallon next decade. That will save you money at the pump.  It will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a level roughly equivalent to a year’s worth of carbon emissions from all the cars in the world put together.”

“If your friends or neighbors are concerned about energy, you tell them, do we want an energy plan written by and for big oil companies?”

“Or do we want an all-of-the-above energy strategy for America — renewable sources of energy. Governor Romney calls them ‘imaginary.’ Congressman Ryan calls them a ‘fad.’ I think they’re the future. I think they’re worth fighting for.”

In 2011, global investments in renewable energy surpassed investments in fossil fuels for the first time. Since 2004, one trillion dollars have been invested in the global clean energy sector.

This article was originally published on Think Progress. It has been reposted with permission.

Image: solar, wind, hydro graphics via Shutterstock

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About the Author

is an editor at Greentech Media. Formerly, he was a reporter/blogger for Climate Progress, where he wrote about clean energy policy, technologies, and finance. Before joining CP, he was an editor/producer with RenewableEnergyWorld.com. He received his B.A. in journalism from Franklin Pierce University.

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  • Dimitar Mirchev

    Even if renewable energy had doubled under Obama term I dont thik he can take big credit for that.

    Except if you can take credit for not stopping it 🙂 Obame have not helped Renewables – he just let happen what was going on.

    He could have done much much much better. Just see other countries growth in the last 4 years.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Sorry, your information deficit is showing. Might want to duck behind a potted plant and straighten it up….

      • Dimitar Mirchev

        Dont get me wrong. I’m happy with the US progress. I’m not happy with the fact that it could have been much much bigger.

        USA is THE world economic force and it’s renewable progress is pathetic compared to the potential.

        PV is one example – Obama could have made federal standards – extremely simple ones – about PV permiting. This alone could have reduced the installation cost of PV by around $1/Wp and make it closer to Germany’s $2.3/Wp:


        You know that.

        2 GWp installations for the whole 2011 – that’s nothing. Germany (being 3 times smaller and having lower solar radiation) adds that much in a month, well not every month but still…

        • Things could have been much better. But Obama actually did one stellar job of promoting clean energy while dealing with a Congress that wouldn’t compromise or help him on almost anything.

          The GOP congresspeople’s #1 goal was (as stated) to make Obama a 1-term president. That, for them, included sacrificing the health and well-being of the country and the world.

          Obama could have put GW and a price on carbon above healthcare reform — I think he should have for many reasons. Then, he might have squeeked out a win on that instead of healthcare. But I honestly think he didn’t have a clue what kind of opposition he was going to be up against. Maybe i’m wrong…

          Could he have done more? Surely.

          Could he have done a lot more? If he had put pricing carbon before healthcare, yes. If not, I’m not so sure.

        • Bob_Wallace

          The US president has no control over permitting costs. Those are set by city and county governments.

          To establish some sort of nationwide standards and permit fee schedules would take legislation from Congress and I’m not sure that they could even do that, it would likely fail a Constitutional test.

          The way our government is designed I suspect something like this might be done on the state level, via laws/regulations passed by state legislators and approved by state governors.

          Germany has done an outstanding job of installing solar, but Germans also pay a lot more per kWh for their electricity so individuals have a lot more to gain by installing solar. It’s harder to get Americans who live in states where electricity is cheap to install solar.

          With prices dropping so rapidly look for US installation rates to shoot up. We do need to get permitting and paperwork costs down but that battle will have to be fought at the local and state level.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Let me add some more. At the federal level, where PBO does have the power to change things, we did see large improvements in getting renewable projects moving faster.

          The various regulatory agencies got together and identified several million acres of federal land where interesting parties could consider installing wind, solar and geothermal projects. They got most of the environmental issues out of the way by protecting the most important sites and identifying the “less important”.

          Federal review processes for these large projects were streamlined (IIRC). But this has no effect on rooftop solar, which is under control of state and local governments.

  • Captivation

    It occurred to me today that if the smartest man in the world ran an election against the dumbest man in the world, the differences in votes would actually be quite small – probably just a few percent.
    From this, it seems obvious that Obama should be proud of his successes on his own terms. Even if Obama could fly around the world superman style and end crime and suffering, he would only gain one or two points in the polls.

    If I was president and could claim that renewable energy had doubled (d-o-u-b-l-e-d) under my first term, I would be a proud man for the rest of my life.

  • These number show that even against heavy head winds, the US has made progress. Could we have done better, yes. If the US had joined Germany when it deciede to go green with power; then it would be a different world. All the more reason to call and (not or) write your reps in DC and at the state level. Tell them you VOTE, and green power is important to you. Then VOTE! It is the only way to level the playing field, take away all the perks that coal, gas, and oil have paid under the table for; and move the US to where it needs to be.

  • Dimitar Mirchev

    I do not believe anyone passionate about renewables is happy with these numbers.

    USA can do much much better.

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