US boosts use of renewables in energy consumption

Americans used more solar, nuclear, biomass, and wind energy in 2008 than they did in 2007, according to energy flow charts released by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

Eric Watkins
OGJ Oil Diplomacy Editor

LOS ANGELES, July 23 -- Americans used more solar, nuclear, biomass, and wind energy in 2008 than they did in 2007, according to energy flow charts released by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

“This is a good snapshot of what’s going on in the country,” said A.J. Simon, an LLNL energy systems analyst, who develops the energy flow charts using data provided by the US Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration.

“Some of the year-to-year changes in supply and consumption can be traced to factors such as the economy and energy policy,” said Simon. “I'm really excited about the renewed push for energy efficiency in this country,” he added.

According to the LLNL charts, the US used less coal and petroleum during the same timeframe and only slightly increased its natural gas consumption, while use of geothermal energy remained the same.

The estimated US energy use in 2008 equaled 99.2 quadrillion BTUs (quads), down from 101.5 quads in 2007, the report said.

Energy use in the industrial and transportation sectors declined by 1.17 and 0.9 quads, respectively, while commercial and residential use slightly climbed.

The drop in transportation and industrial use—both of which are heavily dependent on petroleum—can be attributed to a spike in oil prices during summer 2008.

Last year saw a significant increase in biomass with the recent push for the development of more biofuels including ethanol.

Simon said the increase in wind energy can be attributed to large investments in wind turbine technologies over the last few years as well as better use of the existing turbines.

Nuclear energy also saw a slight increase from 8.41 quads in 2007 up to 8.45 quads in 2008.

While no new nuclear power plants came online in 2008, the existing plants had less down time. Over the last 20 years, the downtime for maintenance and refueling at nuclear power plants had been decreasing.

"There's an incentive to operate as much as possible," Simon said. "It's a smart thing to do. You can't earn revenue by selling electricity when you're down."

Many years of experience have allowed nuclear operators to optimize plant reliability on short maintenance cycles.

The chart also shows the amount of energy rejected by the US. Of the 99.2 quads consumed, only 42.15 ended up as energy services.

Energy services are "things that make our lives better," Simon said. "That's the energy that makes your car move and that comes out of your light bulb."

The ratio of energy services to the total amount of energy used is a measure of the country's energy efficiency.

The remainder, Simon said, "is simply rejected. For example, some rejected energy shows up as waste heat from power plants."

But more efficient power plants, automobiles and even light bulbs really do reject less energy while providing the same energy services."

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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