Extreme Weather Causing Higher Carbon Emissions Even As Renewables Grow

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Two new reports from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) summarizing energy usage trends for the first part of 2014 were released this week.

The first was EIA’s Electric Power Monthly, which provides data on electricity usage through the end of April. The second was EIA’s Monthly Energy Review, which provides usage data in all sectors (including transportation and heating) for the first quarter of the year.

In a nutshell, renewables are growing quickly, but not as quickly as carbon emissions. During the first four months of the year, renewables provided 14.05% of all electricity generated nationwide. That’s a level that wasn’t expected to be seen until 2040. No longer can anyone say that renewables provide an insignificant portion of our energy needs. No one expected them to proliferate this fast.

During that same period, wind power grew past the 5% threshold, contributing 5.15% of US electricity production. At the same time solar doubled its contribution compared to the previous year, increasing  108.9%. Solar surpassed geothermal for the first time in April and is now contributing almost 0.5% of the total US electricity supply. Solar is gaining on second place wood and wood-derived fuels, which has remained steady for several years. If the present trends continue, solar should take the #2 spot among renewables in the next year or so.

This year has also seen non-hydro renewables (biomass, geothermal, solar, wind) overtake conventional hydropower.

Nuclear power generation increased by 0.7% over this time frame, though its contribution to the overall total actually fell. This illustrates the fact that overall generation increased, at least during the first three months of the year. This could be explained in part by the very cold winter experienced in many parts of the country.

Turning to the more comprehensive energy picture, we see similar trends. Domestic production of renewable energy, including biofuels, grew by 4.36%, to the point where it now accounts for 11.41% of all domestic energy supply. Likewise, renewables consumption grew by 3.52% over the previous year, accounting for 8.81% of all energy consumption.

In the biofuels sector, ethanol grew by 11.74% and biodiesel grew by 10.85%

So much for the good news. The bad news is that consumption of fossil fuels increased by 5.17% in the first quarter of 2014 compared to the same period in 2013. Coal rose by 8.91%, natural gas by 7.43%, and petroleum by 1.07%. As a result, CO2 emissions rose by 5.48% compared to the same period in 2013 and by 10.52% when compared to the first quarter of 2012.

Breaking this down by sector, one can see a long term trend of decreasing energy use in the industrial sector, with pronounced spikes in both the residential and commercial sector, during both the winter and summer seasons. This suggest that the more extreme weather we have been experiencing has been causing higher energy usage in a positive feedback loop that contributes to even more climate instability. It would be nice to think that these anomalies are just flukes, but there is much to suggest that this is the new normal, which means we'll have to work even harder to actually reduce emissions.

[Image credit: Turbat N: Flickr Creative Commons]