Wind A Big Gainer As US Uses Less Energy In 2011

In 2009, energy consumption in the U.S. plunged because the economy went into the toilet. In 2011, during a period of modest economic expansion, Americans used less energy than in the previous year – but this time it was “due mainly to a shift to higher-efficiency energy technologies in the transportation and residential sectors,” according to a new government report.

And wind was on the rise, too.

LLNL energy use

Image via LLNL. Larger version available here.

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory said wind power was the biggest percentage gainer in energy production in 2011, rising from .92 quadrillion BTU (quads) in 2010 to 1.17 quads in 2011.

“Wind energy jumped significantly because, as in previous years, many new wind farms came online,” A.J. Simon, an LLNL energy systems analyst, said in a statement. “This is the result of sustained investment in wind power.”

Even as it grew, wind power remained a very small part of the energy picture – total U.S. energy use in 2011 was 97.3 quads (down from 98 quads in 2010), with 39.2 quads for electricity generation. Solar, also growing fast, was even smaller, contributing less than a tenth the power that wind did, at 0.158 quads.

Simon used data provided by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration to create that great flow chart you see above. A larger version is available here.

As for the bulk of U.S. energy consumption, the big fossil-fuel players were feeding it in 2011, as usual, but the shale gas revolution continued to show its influence, as did the high price for oil (petroleum continued to dominate as the transportation fuel source, but use of oil did decline a bit).

“Sustained low natural gas prices have prompted a shift from coal to gas in the electricity generating sector,” Simon said. “Sustained high oil prices have likely driven the decline in oil use over the past 5 years as people choose to drive less and purchase automobiles that get more miles per gallon.”

One other interesting change in 2011 came wholly courtesy Mother Nature: Hydroelectric generation rose from 2.51 quads in 2010 to 3.17 quads in 2011 “because 2011 saw large amounts of precipitation in the Western U.S.” and “(h)ydroelectric dams were able to produce at their maximum levels while keeping reservoirs full.” LLNL said 2011 hydro production was similar to what was seen in the wet years of 1997, 1998 and 1999.

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.

  • Yes wind is great, but a lot of the reduction is due to the recession and fewer jobs.

    • Pete Danko

      That’s not true. U.S. total employment grew by more than 2 million from the end of 2010 to the end of 2011, and the economy grew in every quarter of 2011. Data available here: http://research.stlouisfed.org/