The Clean Energy Revolution In Three (Or Four) Charts

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In what amounts to a giant group hug for the taxpaying public, the US Department of Energy is out with the latest update to its series of Revolution…Now clean energy reports. The new update takes us up to 2014 to underscore how quickly clean energy is taking root in the US, thanks in part to government support for developing new technologies and pushing them into the marketplace.

The latest Revolution…Now is also a not so thinly veiled Dear John letter to the fossil fuel industry in general and in particular, to ExxonMobil. The oil giant has been hammered in recent months for willfully misleading consumers and policymakers about climate risks related to its business model. The New York State Attorney General has already deployed state law to go after ExxonMobil for misleading its investors, and the new report could be part of an effort to build public support for parallel action by the US Department of Justice.

US clean energy wind

Three Charts For Clean Energy

To be clear, that’s just us thinking out loud. As stated in an Energy Department press release, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has timed the latest update of Revolution…Now to lead into the upcoming COP21 United Nations Climate Negotiations in Paris, which will be taking place as scheduled despite the attacks on the French capital last week.

The key item that jumped out at us was this statement, illustrated by the wind energy chart above that shows rising installation and declining costs:

Wind is the first non-hydro renewable energy source to begin to approach the same scale as conventional energy forms like coal, gas and nuclear.

The cost decline correlates to a rise in the size and efficiency of wind turbines, especially after 1998. According to the clean energy report, the average single-turbine capacity has increased about 162% in just over 15 years, and overall wind capacity in the US has more than tripled since 2008.

There’s plenty more where that came from. The US is just barely beginning to tap its vast offshore wind resources (no thanks to these guys), and despite some skeptics the Energy Department still provides support for developing the micro wind turbine market.

Moving along to solar energy, Revolution…Now charts a similar capacity increase/cost decrease:

US clean energy solar (utility)

If you’re wondering what all this has to do with ExxonMobil, that’s a good question. After all, the US barely relies on oil for fueling its electric power plants. However, oil is commonly used in the US to heat individual buildings, and ExxonMobil has been ramping up its involvement in the US shale gas boom. Displacing these markets with low cost clean energy will do some hurt to the fossil fuel sector, and then there’s this third chart:

US Clean Energy EV

This chart shows electric vehicle (EV) sales taking off after 2013, concurrent with the falling cost of EV batteries, so there goes your mobility market for fossil fuels. While the hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle market is still in its infancy, we’re thinking that the emergence of sustainable hydrogen (water-splitting enabled by solar or wind energy) will eventually do some damage, too.

Put the solar, wind, and EV trends together and you’re looking at a clean energy formula for continued economic growth in the US, a far cry from the “job-killing” picture painted by fossil fuel lobbyists and their supporters in government.

That Fourth Clean Energy Chart

While the first three charts are headline-grabbers, energy efficient lighting hasn’t sparked much public conversation ever since the usual suspects found some other controversy to replace the waning light bulb scandal.

However, the Energy Department is still very much interested in energy efficient lighting, and the clean energy report includes this information about rise of LED (light emitting diode) technology:

US clean energy LED

Improved energy efficiency in buildings correlates to an increased potential for replacing fossil fuels with clean energy and stationary energy storage, and as a ripple effect that creates more space in the electricity generating landscape for the mobile energy storage units known as electric vehicles.

In other words, building energy efficiency is a critical piece of the overall clean energy puzzle, and LED technology is an important element in that strategy.

As with the other three charts, the LED chart only hints at the future. There is still plenty of room for growth in LED adoption and technology enhancements that lower costs.

Speaking Of The Paris Climate Talks

Secretary Moniz announced the updated clean energy report during a talk at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on November 13, almost to the hour that terrorists murdered 129 innocent people in Paris, with the group ISIS (also known by other acronyms) claiming responsibility.

Moniz’ talk focused on the stunning progress that nations have made in terms of policy commitment to manage climate change heading into the Paris climate talks, leading off with this forward-looking statement:

In the context of Paris, we are at a pretty remarkable place compared to what most thought, say a year ago.

That’s a chilling contrast to events on the ground in Paris last Friday, but to the extent that petrodollars fund terrorists and justify destructive policymaking, perhaps Moniz’ optimistic outlook on the shared future of our little planet will be realized in more ways than one.

[Edit: Corrected link to source. Changed images which were from previous report to the current versions.]

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Images (all, screenshots): via US Department of Energy.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3147 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey

29 thoughts on “The Clean Energy Revolution In Three (Or Four) Charts

  • The crazy (awesome) part of these graphs is just how similar they are. Virtually identical with the exception of timing, scale and pricing. Freaking awesome and inspiring at the same time. We can do this. Solutions today don’t have to be painful though they are painfully obvious.

    I’m seeing more and more interest expressed as action here in California with multiple people in my little world actually going solar, actually buying more efficient and electric vehicles…and we all installed CFLs a few years ago so when those start failing, people will install lower cost LEDs. It’s great to see widespread availability of high quality GE/Sylvania/Phillips LEDs at prices that make sense.

    • From an economic and environmental point of view, it is better to immediately replace all cfls *now* with LEDs.

      If you wait until the cfls fail, you are literally throwing money away. And also contributing to more co2…

      I worked the monetary payback time of replacing cfls with LEDs. It was on the order of 1 year.

      I also did a rough back of the envelope calculation on what would happen if all UK homes immediately swapped cfls or older halogens or even old bulbs with LEDs. The demand reduction was approximately 3.5GW. I.e. 1 Hinckley point C.

      I didn’t take into consideration the savings to be made from commercial and industrial sectors. I expect it to be greater.

      • This doesn’t make sense to me. Replacing them now means they end up in the trash (recycler actually but basically the same thing). Why not get more functionality out of them until they die? I definitely agree with replacing all halogen, etc with LEDs…that just makes good financial sense. Just changing light bulbs can (and will) make a HUGE impact on our global energy usage.

        • Yes, there is a small impact from “waste” but it’s a necessary evil to attack the bigger problem of global warming.

          Every day you run a CFL light bulb at 15W instead of an LED bulb at 5W, that’s 10W of electricity generation that is a waste.

          A CFL light bulb will last about 10 years. So, that’s 10 years of 10W*no of hours*no of lightbulbs = a lot of CO2 that could be abated.

          Do the maths and add up how much it’ll cost you replace your bulbs. In the UK, an LED bulb costs about £5-6 (approx). The cost of electricity saving from that 10W every time you use the light means a payback time of about 7-8 months (I estimated an ave of 4hrs “on time” per day) and a bit less for the lights I have on more frequently. That’s just on the cost of electricity v cost of new light bulb.

          I did an accounting before I switched all mine – the case was irrefutable.

          • The CFLs we had at the house were ~9 watts each. I replaced them all with LEDs ranging from 9-11 watts so no real reduction. I would be that your assumption that all CFLs are 15 watts is high and conversely that all LEDs are 5 watts is low. I saw minimal, if any usage reduction benefit from swapping as we upgraded to LEDs. With that being the case, I see little reason to encourage upgrades other than “when your CFLs fail, install LEDs”. That may be different in the UK vs here in California.

          • Those sound high W LEDs to me. The biggest one I’ve got is 6W. I’ve seen some 10W ones, but there’s no real need for them in most cases, as the brightness of the 5W ones is more than sufficient (and better than CFL equivalent)

            The CFLs I had ranged from 11W to 14W, so the saving was worth it.

            The bigger savings, were of course from the Halogen “spot-lamp” style (GU50) ones were either 20W (they were the ones I’ve already had to replace due to failure) or 35W ones (the originals) – all replaced with 4.5W replacements.

            I did the calculation and all the lights in my flat now come to about 70W I think. I even changed the light in the fridge.

          • Fridge lights are my favorite! Why keep something that’s basically really good at generating heat and really bad at making light (typical incandescent bulb) in something build for the sole purpose of keeping stuff cold? Makes great sense to replace those on so many levels!

          • Used the same argument with my parents… All of their commonly used bulbs are led now. We put the CFLs in the rarely used sockets as the economics didn’t justify it for a bulb that’s turned on less than a hour a week (think closets, laundry room, attic etc).

            Plus, then they’re not wasted…

      • Oh I know why it’s that way. Just made me smile that they’re all following similar trends along similar timing. Gives me hope that people will do the right thing even if only to save a few bucks…

    • Is Kyle Field your name or does it refer to Kyle Field at Texas A&M university?

  • These charts although are cool DOES NOT PAINT the whole picture! So these are misleading and could make us complacent to sit back and relax.

    My suggestion is to compare the contributions of solar PV, Wind, other renewables to the total projected demands. By then we will know how much work that needs to be done to truly reduce our CO2 emissions.

    It is the same with the EV, all of these are tiny blips compared the millions of other fossil guzzling vehicles being sold out there. There needs to be a graph comparing the plug-ins with the total vehicles sold, and the total number and kinds of vehicles out there on the roads.

    We can project these graphs that are progressing exponentially, but e have to compare projections with the existing fossil fuel based energy being used and projected to use. Then we shall know how much work we need to do.

    • Here’s how renewables are doing compared to fossil fuels for electricity in the US. I’m looking forward to adding the 2015 data points….

  • What would those charts look like if two actions had taken place:
    Reduce FF subsidies in 2009 by say 50 % as promised and at the same time have a carbon tax on FF of say ONLY $ 30 per ton!

  • Another similar dramatic chart would be the typical home energy consumption with modern home insulation and passive solar designs needing a lot less energy to climate control. Add led lighting and very efficient appliances like inverter air conditioners with 4.0 and greater EER’s , induction cooktops , direct drive front load washing machines , led backlit displays and laptops versus desktop pc’s and the consumption can easily halve compared to even 5 years ago

    • This is very unscientific, but I have an efficient, well insulated house with a laptop, front load washer, no drier, no AC, all LEDs, induction cooktop and live in Ontario, Canada. My neighbor with similar sized house pays $220/mth for electricity and I pay $75.

      • Stick some Solar PV (and solar thermal for hot water) on your roof and you could reduce that bill even more…

      • I am on that same page, my total energy bill, all electric is $ 550 per year, northern BC.

        • Wow, $550/year for energy, that is awesome!

          I’m in eastern Ontario, with a solar water heater to supplant our NG boiler (radiant floor heat) plus a 5.7 kW PV array (that injects all power (for sale) into the grid).

          Our electricity use for past 12 months was 6,714 kWh (560 kWh/month). Our PV production was 8,201 kWh ( 683 kWh/month) for a net surplus to the grid of 1,487 kWh. My 1.4 mWh surplus makes up for, in my opinion, the CO2 burn involved in my share of the municipal water and sewer supply.

          Our Natural Gas use for the past 12 months was 1812 M3 (151 M3/month). NG burn resulted in a total of 3.25 tonnes CO2.

          • With some solar but with a huge AC load due to living in Las Vegas, my total gas (water heater and clothes dryer only) and electric (everything else) bill for the last year was US$680.00, of which $240 was connection charges.
            4KW PV array generated ~7,000KWh last year, about 65% of my total electric usage. Extra thick insulation, inductive stove top, LED’s everywhere….

          • I wonder if either Zach or somebody who writes for this site could do an article about the % of people who are on this that are:
            1 early adopters
            2 live energy efficient
            3 their own CO 2 reduction targets
            4 and the outcome of 1-3
            5 what actions/incentives are needed to go further

  • How long will installed CFLs last? Thirteen years?

    • My first lasted about 15 years before getting too dim to use. None of the others have aged out yet.

      I’ve now forgotten what it’s like to have a light bulb burn out.

      • I should have written – 13 more years.

  • I bought 60W equivalent LEDs at …”a major retailer” a couple of days ago for $0.61 each.

    • Tell us where. Passing along good news is not spamming.

    • Nice! That brings the payback to less then a year like the original poster stated.

      I sometimes wish things were so affordable in Canada, oh well.

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