Little Progress by Renewables

RENEWPrevious posts have commented on the fact that trying to change the contribution of the different energy sources making up our domestic energy supply is somewhat analogous to changing the direction of an ocean liner. It’s just hard to make significant changes, given the fuels and energy infrastructure and even economics. That’s why the graphic for 2011 is probably not very different from this year’s (2014), though natural gas is making slow inroads into coal and petroleum. Significantly, we still get less than 10% of our energy from “renewables” and a third of that is from hydropower, which  has been a steady contributor all along.

Wind energy still supplies three times as much as solar, though solar is starting to make strides as the cost of PV panels keeps coming down. There has been some disappointment with solar energy as derived from boiling fluids in pipes exposed to thousands of mirrors in sun-drenched California deserts as this technology is now more expensive than PV with the additional problem of bird kills resulting from birds burning up when flying into the zone served by the mirrors concentrating the light on the pipes. Solar is optimistically expected to make more rapid progress, as projected in an ATKearney study for Europe as depicted below.SolarRRRR

The unfortunate fact is that renewables will continue to constitute a pretty small part of our energy supply. As a consequence, carbon dioxide emissions remain stubbornly high, not surprisingly as automotive vehicles and aircraft still run almost exclusively on fossil fuels. With some nuclear capacity scheduled for decommissioning, the situation will get worse before it gets better.

Europe is better placed to increase renewables because both coal and natural gas prices there are quite high, providing great incentive for installing wind or solar.

I don’t think there’s much interesting news in this post, but it’s still useful to understand the statistics. Also, as I’ve pointed out in other posts, there are areas in the U.S. where renewables for short periods of time, supply a surprisingly high percentage of local energy demand. Nevertheless, the overall picture for renewables is bleak, to some extent a collateral effect of low natural gas prices and hydraulic fracturing.


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