Renewable Energy Sources in U.S. Power Generation Boost Environmental Conservation

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), biofuels, biomass, geothermal, hydroelectric, solar, and wind provided 11.14% of all domestic U.S. energy production during the first six months of 2010 – the latest time-frame for which data has been published.

This continues the steady growth trend for renewable energy sources in the U.S.

In fact, renewable energy sources powered 4.91% more BTUs (4.106 quadrillion) during the first six months of 2010, compared with the first six months of 2009, and 8.37% more BTUs than they provided during the first half of 2008.

The largest single renewable energy source was biomass (including biofuels) which produced 50.66% of all renewable energy in the period. The second largest source was hydropower (32.56%). Wind, geothermal, and solar sources provided 10.91%, 4.53%, and 1.32%, respectively, of all renewable energy output during that same time frame.

An interesting benchmark is nearing, as renewable energy's contribution to the nation's domestic energy production is fast approaching that provided by nuclear power: 11.19% during the first half of 2010, just 0.05% more than the contribution of renewables. However, renewable sources of energy continue to expand, while nuclear energy output is already dropping (1.3% less in 2010 than in 2009), and will drop even more as nuclear plants reach the end of their useful life with no replacements currently on the drawing boards.

According to the EIA's data, electricity generated by biomass, geothermal, solar, and wind power sources during the first six months of 2010 increased by 13.0%, compared with the amount of electricity they generated during the first half of 2009. Wind-generated electricity increased by 21.4%; electricity from solar thermal and photovoltaics rose by 16.4%; wood & other forms of biomass rose by 4.5%; and geothermal output increased by 0.8%.

However, the largest absolute increase in electrical generation from June 2009 to June 2010 was chalked up by coal-fired generating plants, which produced 17,483 thousand more megawatthours, or 11.8 percent, year over year, and powered more than three-fifths of the overall national increase in electrical generation. Natural gas-fired generating plants came in second, producing 8,121 thousand more megawatthours, or 9.6 percent, between 2009 and 2010.

Even so, wind was the energy source with the third-highest absolute megawatthour increase, year over over, June 2009 to June 2010. Electrical generation from wind accounted for an additional 2,388 thousand megawatthours. Conventional hydroelectric power generated 164 thousand megawatthours, during the same period. Hydroelectric generation in California was by far the largest contributor to the overall national increase.

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Graphic credit: U.S. Energy Information Administration