EIA Shows Start of Major Energy Shift: Can We Keep it Going?

Each day, the Energy Information Administration releases a slice of data from its archives illustrating the state of the U.S. energy market. It’s a helpful and often fun resource for anyone who likes energy data. (It can also be a downer, as the charts often show how far we have to go to scale non-hydro renewables.)

This chart, showing historic capacity additions to the U.S. electrical mix, is a case in point. To the optimist, it shows the beginning of a massive shift, with wind taking a huge slice of new power plant build-out in the last six years. From 2005 to 2009, wind represented about 35% of installed capacity, and in 2010 represented $11 billion in investment and 25% of new capacity additions. As we saw with hydro in the 40’s, coal in the 50’s and nuclear in the 70’s, we’re realizing the beginning of a new era in energy.

But the pessimist may ask: “Where’s everything else?” Indeed, there’s a notable lack of “other,” meaning solar PV, small hydro, geothermal and biomass. The fastest growing sector, solar PV, will put about 2 GW of capacity online in the U.S. this year — very large compared to historic growth, but still small in this context. Small hydro is bogged down in regulatory red tape, new geothermal build-out is moving slowly due to technical and financing issues, and concerns about emissions slowed biomass generation. And all of these resources are suffering from a lack of long-term certainty on the federal level.

And, of course, many renewables, like wind power, provide power for less time in a given day than many traditional plants, so their share of total delivered electricity is less than their share of capacity.

One wonders what this chart will look like a decade from now. We can only hope it has a lot more color on it.

Below are earlier comments from the Facebook commenting system:

David McMahon

This past February when it was -14 degrees in NM we saw the value of wind power, when rolling blackouts from Texas kept people from heating their homes. Sometimes reality intrudes. Wind provides intermittent power, and like it or not coal actually works. Wind energy is a nice theory if you don’t live where it gets very cold in winter.

July 16 at 2:01amRichard Brenne

Coal also works to heat our planet to the point of catastrophe.

16 at 4:10am

John Kinker

Whatever. Nuclear doesn’t.

July 16 at 4:19pm

David McMahon

Hi Richard you might want to check the temperature record. There hasn’t been any statistically significant warming since 1996, and in many areas (including the US) temperatures have been steadily declining since 2001. HadCRUT also shows the global mean has declined, and that’s why some people are groping for answers (aka Chinese coal aerosols). Also in the past CO2 levels have been 10, 15 and even 18 times higher than today but there was no “catastrophe”.

July 16 at 4:30pm

Richard Brenne

Hi David, I have checked the most reliable temperature record from multiple sources many times. Have you?

Only one of four models (and I thought you guys didn’t like models) wildly conjectures that CO2 might possibly have been around 7000 ppm at the time of the Cambrian Explosion from single-celled creatures 542 million years ago. Since there has been animal life on land most of 400 million years ago, the four models have highs of 2000 ppm but average around 1000 ppm until almost 100 million years ago, when the high estimates all drop below 1000 ppm and average 500 ppm until the average drops below that after the Eocene 55 million years ago. During the last few million years during the evolution of all hominids CO2 has averaged around 280 ppm. What is most relevant to our species is that CO2 is now likely the highest it’s been for at least 15 million years.


Fifteen million years ago is around the time when the earliest of our Great Ape ancestors first appeared. (Little did they know that one Great Ape would go Ape and possibly boost CO2 to 1000 ppm around 5000 times faster than Earth has ever experienced before.)

It is the rate of change that is the concern.

So yes, coal and the other fossil fuels are heating our planet o the point of catastrophe very soon as it already has in Pakistan, Australia, Russia, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and along the Missouri, Mississippi and many other rivers within the last year.

And there has been statistically significant global average temperature warming since 1996 or else sea ice and glaciers wouldn’t be melting as they are, along with dozens of other lines of evidence including devices called thermometers carefully placed and recorded by thousands of professional meteorologists. If you’re sincere and interested in the truth, please return often and study the science posts including archives here at CP. If you’re not sincere about learning the truth, please don’t.

July 17 at 4:46am

Gary Zavitz

Hi David. What is the source of your data suggesting no significant warming since 1996? May have misunderstood your definition of warming, so how do you define it? Looking here, it seems to suggest otherwise: http://www.wunderground.co​m/climate/ & http://thinkprogress.org/r​omm/2010/02/11/205494/scie​nce-meehl-ncar-record-high​-temperatures-record-lows/​.

July 17 at 9:40pm


Wave power exceeds expectations.http://climateforce.net/20​11/07/14/wave-power-exceed​s-expectations/#respondJuly 14 at 11:32am



Wave device tested off Scotland exceeds expectations.http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/​uk-scotland-highlands-isla​nds-14151945July 14 at 9:27am


OPT added: “The company believes the capacity factor represented by these results exceeded that experienced by most other renewable sources.”

July 14 at 9:28am


The trials of the PB150 PowerBuoy required the consent of the Scottish government.

OPT has also been developing wave energy devices for powering US Navy and Marine Corps bases.

July 14 at 9:28am


Here’s an idea that may help geothermal….

Since a lot of the cost is dirt work, it just kills to see major dirt work without geothermal lines being installed. In places where soil erosion control permits are required, that process could be modified in many different ways to encourage geothermal install.

July 14 at 9:57amJohn P. Romankiewicz

what’s thatnew coal capacity in 2007–2010?

July 14 at 9:46am

Mike twotwo

see slides 8 and 10 http://www.netl.doe.gov/co​al/refshelf/ncp.pdf

July 14 at 10:10am

Will Greene

That’s exactly what I was wondering.

July 15 at 4:19pm