Renewable Energy Consumption Passes Nuclear

[Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflected consumption patterns as detailed by the EIA.]

Renewable energy consumption in the United States recently exceeded current and historical consumption levels for nuclear energy, a government study reports.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, during the first quarter of this year a combination of nuclear outages related to plants shutting down for refueling and the start of the high water season for hydropower generation caused the shift in consumption. Seasonal variations in renewable energy, said the EIA,  “are dominated by the annual cycle of water availability for hydroelectric power production. Hydropower constitutes a significant yet highly variable portion of total renewable energy consumption, accounting for 31% of renewable energy consumption in 2010.”

wind farm

image via Shutterstock

Joining this is a multi-year upward trend in renewable consumption driven by increasing consumption of biofuels and wind capacity additions. In the context of this study, renewable energy consumption is defined beyond electric power generation from hydro, wind, solar, and geothermal sources. Sources including biofuels for transportation (such as ethanol and biodiesel) and biomass (such as wood and wood wastes) for space heating and industrial steam production as well as for electric power generation are counted as renewable resources.

With regards to data from the EIA, the various modes of energy consumption are put into common units (British thermal units, or Btu) for comparison purposes, with the end result of information representing the amount of fossil fuel consumption that might be displaced by the renewable generation. It is believed this approach produces a value greater than the result of a simple kilowatthour-to-Btu conversion.

It should be noted as well, the EIA mentioned, that with regards to the electricity-only portion of primary energy data, other energy use such as transportation, heating, or industrial steam production is excluded. When this is the case, renewable electricity generation—a subset of renewable energy—remains slightly below nuclear generation.

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Steve Duda lives in West Seattle, WA with three dogs and a lot of outdoor gear. A part-time fly fishing fishing guide and full-time writer, Steve’s work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Seattle Weekly, American Angler, Fly Fish Journal, The Drake, Democracy Now! and many others.


  • Reply August 10, 2011


    This is misleading. Nuclear produces 25% of our nation’s energy. Renewables produces sound 8.6%?nnJesus, at least make your reports honorable.

    • Reply August 10, 2011


      Thanks for your comments. The story is reflective now of consumption information.

  • Reply August 10, 2011

    zhiyin zhou

    Shouldnu00b4t renewable energy production passes nuclear energy? Whatu00b4s the proud?

  • Reply August 11, 2011


    Hmmm.u00a0 I think the EIA has missed a big bet here.nnFood is clearly a renewable resource, and it is primary energy used for heating our bodies.u00a0 So we should count all the calories consumed by the US population in the renewable total, too.u00a0 Heh.nnSome of us think nuclear is in fact green, and needs to be a significant part of reducing carbon emissions.u00a0 If you are reflexively anti-nuclear but haven’t actually thought about it, and know very little about it, I recommend the book “Terrestrial Energy” by William Tucker.u00a0 You might also check out this (much expanded) version of a talk I gave at my kids’ school for Earth Day, entitled “A Rational Environmentalist’s Guide to Nuclear Power”.u00a0 Who knows?u00a0 You might surprise yourself and learn something.nnDepending on how the comments are managed, you may need to cut-and-paste into a browser:nnu00a0

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