US renewable electricity generation hits 13% in April

Posted by: Adam Aston on July 21, 2009

The folks over at the Sun Day Campaign have fished out some surprising data from the latest figures on U.S. electricity generation. For April total generation from green sources hit 13%, a surprising figure and possibly a record (can anyone confirm this?). Even excluding energy from big dams, renewable energy from wind mills, solar and other non-polluting technologies hit 4.2%, a figure well in excess of the 3% target now being considered as a 2013 goal in Senate energy legislation. Congress should set stretch goals, not disingenuous soft targets.

Reader Comments

Jonathan Teller-Elsberg

July 22, 2009 9:59 AM

You can get the stats from the Energy Information Administration (of the Dept of Energy) at http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epm/table1_1.html" rel="nofollow">http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epm/table1_1.html. The numbers on that screen show net generation in terms of watts produced. If you download the .xls version of the data, you can turn the numbers into percentages. And it does look like the Sun Day report is true to the EIA numbers: April = 13% renewable generation, 4.2% if you ignore "conventional hydro." The data are monthly only back through the beginning of 2007; before that, it's just by yearly totals. (I'm sure the EIA has monthly data for earlier years.) And indeed, these April 2009 values are the highest of the bunch. I've made a chart of the percentage contribution from "other renewables" which you can see here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/15278175@N02/3746312934/.

What's interesting is that since January 2007, the overall trend is clearly an increase in the contribution from renewable sources, but that each year there is a regular up-and-down pattern. In both 2007 and 2008, the contribution from renewables peaks for that year in April, hits a low point in August, then starts back up again. I'm not sure why that is--I just don't know enough about the ins and outs of renewable generation. I'll hazard to guess that maybe (maybe!) this is due to wind being less consistent from late spring through most of summer. Anyhow, whatever the reasons, if the pattern holds, then we should expect this April's record level to hold the record until the spring of 2010.

Jonathan Teller-Elsberg

July 22, 2009 10:27 AM

By the way, I was having fun looking at these numbers in Excel, so I used the FORECAST function to project the growth out through December 2020. This is a very rough projection (among other things, a linear projection, so doesn't take into account the bumpy shape of the preexisting pattern), but anyway there you have it. See the "prediction" chart at http://www.flickr.com/photos/15278175@N02/3746377162/. Of course it's not really a prediction of what renewables will provide. My best guess--and desperate hope--is that renewables will have more of an exponential growth curve and so provide much more than 10% of our electricity in 2020. As renewable technologies improve and mature and manufacturing scales up, it should become cheaper and cheaper to install renewable generation, which would help boost the growth curve.

According to Paul Gipe's new book, Wind Energy Basics 2nd Edition, it would be entirely plausible for wind power to fully replace all fossil fuel electricity generation by (approximately) 2025 -- and that allows for an increase in total electric generation sufficient to convert most of motor transport from gasoline to electric vehicles. (Conflict of interest alert: I work at Gipe's publisher, Chelsea Green Publishing.)

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BusinessWeek correspondents John Carey and Mark Scott, cover the green scene, keeping on top of the business aspects of energy, the environment and climate change, as well as the technologies, policies, markets and people that are shaping how the earth's resources will be used in the century ahead.

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