EIA: Renewable resources delivered 11% of U.S. energy production in 2010, just like nuclear power

In 2010, all forms of renewable energy provided 8.2 quadrillion BTUs of primary energy production in the United States, a little less than 11% of our total production of 74.9 quads.  At the same time, nuclear power provided 8.4 quads, a little more than 11% of the total.

This is data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review for March 2011.  Given that renewable power continues to grow at a healthy clip, while nuclear power has stagnated in recent years, renewables may well deliver more total primary production than nuclear sometime this year.

Here’s some more detail on how energy production breaks down within the renewable resource category (via Cleantechnica):

  • biomass/biofuels “” 51.98%
  • hydropower “” 30.66%
  • wind “” 11.29%
  • geothermal “” 4.68%
  • solar “” 1.38%

The EIA reported these changes in energy production from 2009 to 2010:

  • wind energy increased by 28%
  • biomass/biofuels increased by 10%
  • solar and geothermal increased by 4% each
  • hydropower dropped by 6%

Since 2007, nuclear power has been flat while renewable resources have delivered 22% more primary energy.  So, again, it’s entirely possible if not likely that renewables will deliver more primary production than nuclear sometime this year — and once they do pass nukes, renewables will stay almost certainly stay ahead throughout this century, given that their costs are declining, unlike nuclear (see Does nuclear power have a negative learning curve?)

21 Responses to EIA: Renewable resources delivered 11% of U.S. energy production in 2010, just like nuclear power

  1. darth says:

    I have seen people pushing LFTR reactors recently. Seems to good to be true so I’m skeptical. Can anyone share good info links on this technology? What are the pros/cons? What is realistic vs. pipe dreams?

  2. Leif says:

    I am committed to putting in Solar PV this year. Add 2 kW to the total. Produced green and manufactured in my home state of Washington. Silicon Energy Product. No affiliation, just a costumer.

    Take that Capitalist Extraction Pigs. By the end of summer will selling more energy than I use and the “Awakening Economy” strikes another cut. Bleed bas***ds!

  3. Gordon says:

    What is probably more important is how much renewable will be installed in the next 10 years – because that’s the minimum time it will take to get just one nuclear plant built in this country.

    I have to think that nuclear is dead. Every 10 years there is a loud reminder of what can go wrong – and with so many older plants still working, you know the failure rate has to go up! I’m hopeful that renewables will quadruple in the next 10 years, leaving nuclear to die.

    It would be difficult enough to get a new plant approved even if you were the only nuclear owner in the world, with all stages of nuclear under your control. But you only need one glitch at one company-, or government-run plant, and all your public relations work goes out the window. Do they really believe that Slovakia or Mexico or Argentina have the resources to handle a large nuclear problem?

  4. Brad says:

    I assume that “biomass/biofuel” is mostly corn-based ethanol. So half of the “renewable” portfolio comes from a source that consumes about as much energy (mostly from fossil fuels) as it delivers, and that drives up world food prices. If you throw this in the fossil fuel bin where it arguably belongs, then the renewable share drops to half of the nuclear share.

  5. Sam says:

    I am guessing that these numbers do not reflect the solar power generated by home solar installations or any other home generating system. Can you estimate the figures for all energy *consumed* in the US from all sources?

  6. Mike # 22 says:

    NREL published a report showing that if Solar PV were installed on existing roofs in the US, it would supply up to 40% of total US electrical needs (using 20% efficient modules).

    Complement all that PV with tens of millions of plug ins. Electric vehicles will require large amounts of lithium for which there is plenty of global resource. Induction motors (Tesla Motors) will work well if there are rare earth bottle necks. All the cost estimates I have looked at show that once production gets up to large numbers, electric vehicles are similar in cost to current vehicles. Thanks to this administration for their smart investments in battery manufacturing.

    Upgrade consumer appliances such as electric hot water heaters, which use 9% of US household electric, to the new equipment available now, as the old equipment gets replaced. We installed one of the new air source heat pump hot water heaters last fall into a small and cool (55 deg F) basement and it works perfectly on heat pump only mode, consuming just 1 kwh/day/person, through the cold winter. These hot water heaters alone could reduce total US electric usage by close to 2%. Lighting is another area where significant reductions in energy use is cost effective and ready.

    The PV electricity might be more expensive than coal (although I doubt that–after a sustained 100 million roof program, it is likely that PV will be a cheap roofing and siding material), but there are the savings on transportation fuel.

    Phasing out coal and most transportation fuels is not a technical problem–its not even much of an economic problem. The problem is the large existing investments in fossil fuel infrastructure and the ownership of the mineral reserves. The investors are not interested in hearing from climate hawks that these investments must be written off. The investors want their profits, and not legislation which (correctly) labels their energy product as defective. So I say, buy them out. They have taken the climate hostage, well, let’s pay the ransom then and get on with things. Determine the full market value of their assets, and replace it with ownership in things like (super safe) micronuke power plants, electric rail, HVDC backbones, and lithium mines. They get to keep on being mega-rich investors on Park Ave, we get a livable planet.


  7. eaarthman says:

    I agree with Brad. I don’t think it’s reasonable to consider ethanol a “renewable” energy. *At best* its EROEI is 1.1:1. There’s a good chance it’s actually negative. Add to that the diversion of potential food to fuel our unsustainable economy, and there’s just nothing good about ethanol. Unless you’re one of the corporations getting big government subsidies to make the stuff, that is.

    There probably isn’t much room to grow hydro anymore, either. It seems the actual trend is tearing down dams, not putting up new ones.

    That means we have to count on wind, solar, and geothermal for most of the growth in renewables. That’s exactly where we should be putting our money. But let’s not forget about peak oil….

  8. sault says:

    darth, wiki is a good place to start:

    The technology is still in the development phase, but it shows some promise as a low-carbon source of energy. There’s 3x as much Thorium on the planet as Uranium and the Thorium fuel cycle doesn’t make weapons-grade material like Uranium light water reactors. I’ve heard that Thorium reactors can breed their own fuel and might be able to “burn up” nuclear waste, but it hasn’t been proven in reality yet, so don’t quote me on that.

    LFTRs are seen as the holy grail by nuclear boosters, but it’s always annoying hearing them go on and on about how awesome they are. Their narrative is that Big Oil invests in puny renewables that can never work just so they can sell more oil. Meanwhile, environmentalists, politicians and lawyers that are somehow being paid by Big Oil try to keep the nuclear industry down. Anybody who brings up issues/problems with current or future nuclear reactors is obviously evil/being paid by Big Oil since nuclear reactors are the only thing that can save us.

    Judging by the Beckian conspiracy theories and their blind zealotry, I’d take the potential of LFTRs or any other nuclear technology that are at least 20 – 30 years away from commercial scale with a really big grain of me.

  9. Mike Roddy says:

    I agree with eaarthman, that wind, solar, and geothermal are the correct plays.

    The tiny market penetration of utility scale solar jumped out at me- a small fraction of 1%. There are actually more good potential sites for solar than for wind or geothermal, making its growth unlimited. If it’s solar thermal, there are no issues with rare metals or silicon.

    Does anybody know why solar has stalled? I’ve heard different rumors, but would like more info here.

  10. question says:

    I notice from Cleantechnica that Solar gained only 4% in 2009-2010, but 45% if you only consider electrical energy production. Anyone have an idea why? One presumes this is because the bulk of solar is producing non-electrical power? Is this solar heating?

  11. Bob Wallace says:

    Mike #22 #6 – great post.

    “The PV electricity might be more expensive than coal ”

    Not if you include subsidies and hidden costs for coal. The recent Harvard study sets the true price of coal-generated electricity at $0.18/kWh.

    (And thanks for recognizing the contribution of our “failed President”.)

  12. It is important to note that the production numbers cited in the article are U.S. domestic production only, according to the source linked. The magnitude of the net imports for U.S. consumption is 28.8% of the amount produced domestically. This quantity is in addition to U.S. domestic production. In descending order, our largest oil trading partners are Canada (2.532 MBPD of 11.753 MBPD imported for 2010), Mexico (1.28 MBPD), Saudi Arabia (1.090 MBPD), Nigeria (1.025 MBPD), and Venezuela (0.987 MBPD). The net imports of oil averaged about 9.95 MBPD for 2010, while domestic production was 9.52 MBPD. In terms in the cited table, U.S. domestic energy production was 74.934 quadrillion BTU, while domestic consumption was 98.010 Quads. Most of that difference was net imports of oil, so we could approximate a conversion of MBPD over a year to Quads and check against the actual conversion rate.

  13. paulm says:

    Do they figure in the coast of clean up of all nuclear accidents and direct/indirect health costs of these in the cost of nuclear generation?

  14. Richard Brenne says:

    This is getting closer to the full-cost accounting of all energy sources that we want, but those giving such things a quick glace will still be misled.

    Less than 11 per cent of all U.S. energy is renewable.

    Less than 6 per cent of all U.S. energy is biomass/biofuels (more on that later).

    Less than 4 per cent is hydro.

    Less than 2 per cent is wind.

    Less than .5 per cent is geothermal.

    Less than .2 per cent is solar.

    The increases, especially of wind, are impressive especially if similar percentages are sustained over time, but it seems harder to get a 28% increase when we reach a million wind turbines than when we have 100,000, in fact 10 times harder (without factoring in economies of scale).

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for solar, wind and geothermal over all other sources of energy, it’s just that if we’re not honest about where they are (less than 3 per cent of all U.S. energy) and where they need to go (ultimately the majority of all energy) I feel that we’ll never get there.

    It’d be like saying there was a “small skirmish of some kind” at Pearl Harbor and that the Axis powers seemed a bit “unfriendly” when Roosevelt and Churchill needed to tell the truth to galvanize their nations into action.

    By the way, global averages track U.S. averages fairly closely, and of course global warming means everyone needs to do their part if we are to survive. Also the most obvious thing of all is that we all need to conserve more, except those without access to energy whose increases will have to come within the conservation wedge of the rich.

    And Brad’s (#4) catch about biomass/biofuels meaning mostly corn ethanol is absolutely key, because as he points out not only should that be included with fossil fuels because any EROEI is minimal at best, but Lester Brown and the other best experts about this feel corn ethanol is contributing to not only rising global food prices, but in its own way to starvation.

    “Fill your tank and empty a poor person’s stomach” could be corn ethanol’s slogan, except that the equation might be more like dozens of poor people’s stomachs.

    The full-cost accounting of all energy costs is rarely done by anyone on Anthro-Earth, and CP is the best place I know of to do this. We need all the objectivity and transparency we can get, and more. . .

  15. David B. Benson says:

    Mike Roddy @9 — Solar is currently too expensive (unless mandated of course). While the price for solar thermal is unlikely to come down much, solar PV prices are widely predicted to decline to about the same cost as wind and natgas for utility scale generation. At that time solar PV backed by combined cycle gas turbines (CCGTs) becomes price attractive.

    In the meantime, it currently makes sense, almost everywhere in the USA, to seriously consider solar heating for much (but not all) of your home hot water requirements. The installation costs are modest; do look into it.

  16. galloping says:

    Richard Brenne,
    It has been a while since we exchanged views. On March 5, 2011 the 75 MW Martin solar power plant was officially opened with Rick Scott (our governor) and Bill Gates in attendance:

    If you look closely at the picture you will see six chimneys. The two largest are 500 feet tall and they belong to an early seventies steam turbine plant that produces 860 MWe. The four smaller chimneys in the foreground belong to a modern “Combined Cycle” plant that produces up to 1,800 MWe at an efficiency of over 60%.

    The solar collectors to the right of the picture are about one tenth of the 190,000 mirror collectors that contribute 75 MW of thermal power to the combined cycle plant. This thermal input contributes (on average) about 18 MWe, corresponding to a respectable capacity factor of 0.24.

    As a physicist/engineer, the Martin plant made a huge impression on me which I plan to share with you off line.

  17. Anne van der Bom says:

    These kind of comparisons are not useful, since they lump together thermal and electric power. 1 kWh of electricity can do much more than 1 kWh of heat.

    [JR: It’s a straight primary energy production calculation and perfectly useful for what it is.]

  18. Raul M. says:

    Heard that there are less than 500 working
    Nuclear reactors in the world in a recent
    Climate One broadcast. Did not hear the
    Number of nuclear electric producing corp.’s
    But failure rate seems higher than 1 in 500
    For reactors and failure rate for the corporations
    Seems high on a fundamental scale.
    They would like to become more internationally
    Based to have ways out of the failure rates?

  19. Mike Roddy says:

    Dave Benson, yeah, I fear you’re right. Ethree predicted $.15 solar thermal prices by 2015, meaning that it’s probably at least $.18 now, not quite a competitive number. The solar companies need to think more about light weight- high tensile strength steel, better geometries, helical piles instead of footings for the arrays, and much else. From what I’ve seen, they haven’t, even though material costs govern in this situation.

    I used to build solar thermal hot water systems for Alten in Mountain View in the late 70’s, using flat plat extruded aluminum collectors. It is still a good system, you’re right. We charged about $2000, but it was all retrofit, with plenty of copper and roof work. It should easily make sense for new construction, but the homebuilders are pretty far right, and won’t do it unless they have to.

  20. Leif says:

    What tipped me to make the investment in solar PV? I am not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination but with frugal living standards I expect to die with a bit of cash left over. My home electrical power consumption is normally ~ $30/Month, (~250kW), with added ~ $60/m for 5 months of winter heating. (High eff. ductless heat pump. Mostly passive Solar @ 48+ degrees N lat. in the NW.) The Solar PV modules, (made in my state), I am going to instal have been tested to 60 years by independent Government testing with zero failure rate. I currently pay a $0.0125 premium for 100% green power thru my power company provider. (~$60.00/year) The 2 kW array will cost ~$14,000 after rebates. That will not quite cover my yearly consumption but will likely give me some small, ($5.00?) cash rebate in the summer. Obviously the savings alone do not add up.


    I do have the cash sitting in the bank loosing inflation value, (2%?+) and paying almost zero interest. Most any investment in Wall Street will support extraction investments and as a small investor I am more than likely dead meat to the Wall Street Sharks. (How much did you lose in the last round of banker feeding frenzy? Tax support for EXXON et al? Wars in Far-off-i- stan? And the Biggey, sons and daughters and Earth’s life support systems? So I figure my whole yearly electric bill goes not into the pockets of the already rich non-tax paying Extraction Zombies, but my state’s green energy Awakening Economy and the pockets of my neighbors. So how does that work out. A cash cow in my yard and a BIG middle finger to the Fossil Extraction F**kers and the horse they road in on… For all time AND making it less expensive for you to do the same!

  21. Raul M. says:

    Well certainly before utility companies
    And nuclear reactors had massive
    Failures, it could be assumed that
    Some could find safe haven in the
    Concept of probability of failure.
    I think that with a changed failure
    Rate only considering probability
    Of failure is no longer a safe haven
    Concept with. credibility.