Americans used more renewable energy in 2009 while still using less energy.
According to data released by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory the United States used much less coal and petroleum in 2009 than it did in 2008 while still using significantly more wind power.
“Energy use tends to follow the level of economic activity, and that level declined last year. At the same time, higher efficiency appliances and vehicles reduced energy use even further,” said A.J. Simon, an LLNL energy systems analyst who develops the energy flow charts using data provided by the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration. “As a result, people and businesses are using less energy in general.”
The flow chart shows the different sources of energy and the amounts produced, plus the flow of energy and where the energy ended up being used. (Click here for a higher resolution PDF with annotations.)
The estimated use of energy in the US in 2009 came to 94.6 quadrillion BTU’s, or quads, down from 99.2 quadrillion in 2008 – a BTU or British Thermal Unit is a unit of measurement for energy, and is equivalent to about 1.055 kilojoules – while the average US household used 95 million BTU per year.
“The increase in renewables is a really good story, especially in the wind arena,” Simon said. “It’s a result of very good incentives and technological advancements. In 2009, the technology got better and the incentives remained relatively stable. The investments put in place for wind in previous years came online in 2009. Even better, there are more projects in the pipeline for 2010 and beyond.”
Energy use in the residential, commercial, industrial and transportation arenas all declined by .22, .09, 2.16, and .88 quads respectively. Simon believes three factors can be directly attributed to the massive decrease in coal used to produce electricity: overall lower electricity demand, a shift to natural gas as fuel, and an offset created by more wind power production.
Carbon emissions data are expected to be released later this year, but Simon suspects they will tell a similar story. “The reduction in the use of natural gas, coal and petroleum is commensurate with a reduction in carbon emissions,” he said. “Simply said, people are doing less stuff. Therefore, they’re burning less fuel.”