Wind, Biofuels Lead U.S. Renewables Growth

Wind and biofuels continued to make big gains as sources of U.S. energy in 2010, but with overall consumption bouncing back from 2009’s 12-year low, fossil fuel use also rose. These are just some of the nuggets from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) and its newly released Electric Power Annual 2010, as well as analysis by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

The EIA said electricity generation from wind has boomed since 2000, jumping from about 6 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) to about 95 billion kWh in 2010. During the same period, consumption of biofuels – and here we’re really talking about fuel ethanol for transportation – has increased from less than 2 billion gallons to 13 billion gallons. The EIA said 99 percent of the ethanol was blended into gasoline, and that nearly all gasoline sold in the United States contains some ethanol.

EIA energy report

image via Shutterstock

“We are still seeing the capacity additions from a wind energy boom come online,” A.J. Simon, an LLNL energy systems analyst, said in a statement. “And renewable fuel mandates are driving the consumption of ethanol by cars and trucks.”

EIA energy report

image via Energy Information Administration

The EIA said that out of 98 quads (quadrillion British thermal units) of energy consumed in the United States in 2010, renewables accounted for 8 quads – about half of which was used to produce electricity. But those 8 quads include 2.5 quads of hydroelectric power, 2 quads of wood and 1.9 quads of biofuels. Put those aside and you’re left with solar, wind and other clean sources of energy accounting for 1.7 quads, of which about half is wind.

On the carbon front, the increased overall energy consumption drove up U.S. emissions to 5,632 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from 5,428 in 2009 – both well off the all-time high for the country of 6,022 metric tons, emitted in 2007. “The decrease is due primarily to reduced energy consumption, but aided by a shift from coal to natural gas in the electric sector and adoption of renewable energy resources,” the LLNL analysis said.

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Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.