The dark cloud of the Great Recession would appear to have a green silver lining (and a lighter carbon footprint). The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), recently reported that Americans are using less energy overall and making more use of renewable energy resources.
The LLNL study followed energy usage in the United States in 2009 versus 2008, and found that Americans used significantly less coal and petroleum in 2009, as well as significantly more wind power. Natural gas use also declined while solar, hydro and geothermal power all increased. Total estimated U.S. energy consumption in 2009 was 94.6 quadrillion BTUs (“quads”), down from 99.2 quadrillion BTUs in 2008.
Why the overall decline in energy usage? “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, in a statement. “As a result, people and businesses are using less energy in general.”
The big renewable success story appears to be wind power, which increased from .51 quads of primary energy being generated in 2008 to .70 quads in 2009–most of which is tied directly to electricity generation, decreasing the demand on coal plants. Simon attributes the increase in wind and other renewables to incentives and technological advancements. “In 2009, the technology got better and the incentives remained relatively stable,” he said. “The investments put in place for wind in previous years came online in 2009.”