When you hear that Greece has installed five times more solar PV per capita than the U.S., you’ve got to wonder when the heck the U.S. is going to get serious about the wholesale energy transformation that the threat of climate change demands. But maybe this bit of information – courtesy renewables expert Paul Gipe – should actually give us hope.
After all, if Bloomberg New Energy Finance is to be believed, even without seriously committing itself to addressing climate change, the U.S. is “consuming energy considerably more efficiently and with lower emissions than just five years ago thanks to a slew of modern technologies that are changing decades-old patterns.”
The Bloombergians report that “from 2007 to 2012, U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions declined 13%.” This period includes the Great Recession, but there’s been fairly steady growth since then, back to where we were before we descended into the abyss, so this counts as real improvement. How has it happened? On the power production side:
From 2007 to 2012, natural gas rose to 27.2% of total energy consumption (including electricity, heat, and transportation) from 23.4%, while renewables including wind, solar, biomass and hydropower have jumped to 9.4% from 6.4%. Meanwhile, during the same period, coal declined to 18.1% from 22.5% and oil fell to 36.7% from 39.3%.
At the same time, there’s been big investment ($7 billion in 2011 alone) in efficiency. “Since 1980, energy intensity of commercial buildings has fallen by more than 40%,” Bloomberg said. Overall, energy demand decreased by 6.4% from 2007 to 2012 largely due to efficiency gains and despite economic growth.”
All of this makes you wonder what progress the U.S. could be making if it embraced renewables, in particular by adopting widespread, aggressive feed-in tariffs, which Gipe points to as the key to Greece’s surprising uptick in solar. It might not take much to truly rev up the U.S. renewables scene – energy production costs are already “plummeting,” Bloomberg says.
The total installed renewable capacity has more than doubled in the five years between 2008 and 2012. The cost of electricity generated by average large solar power plants has fallen from 31 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2009 to 14 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2012 (excluding the effect of tax credits and other incentives, which would bring those costs down even lower). Over the same period, the cost of power from a typical large wind farm has decreased from 9 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2009 to 8 cents per kilowatt-hour.
This data in this story is from Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s new publication, The Sustainable Energy in America 2013 Factbook, published with the Business Council for Sustainable Energy. The 98-page PDF can be viewed or downloaded here.