US continues to lag in renewables, and remains fossil fuel addicted

The tenth Edition of the US Department of Energy is out, and it makes grim reading, not that this was unexpected. There is some growth in renewables, but right now the main generic parity cost renewables – Wind and Solar, are left in the dust in the US, making up 2.4% and 0.8% of total used energy respectively. The great bulk of US renewables is biomass, but this is misleading as it still results in CO2 emissions. It is only renewable in the sense that it can be grown and by growing it some CO2 is taken out of the air.

In China renewables accounted for 26.45% in 2017, but China also relies heavily on hydro power.  It has a government edict that this will reach 35% by 2030, and it has market leads in the creation of both Solar panels and Wind Turbines, overtaking Denmark, Germany and Spain in Wind, who have been at this for several decades. Europe is targeting a rise to 40% by 2030.

The truth is that the US is quite simply not really trying, and while CO2 emissions have finally penetrated the oil-mad consciences of the average US voter, it has yet to make it onto the agenda of many politicians, with the exception of the fuss being made by the Green New Deal proposed by two Democratic senators Ed Markey and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It is likely that the next Presidential Election will be fought almost entirely on this issue, and a backlash from the Republican party’s continued doubt over the causes of global warming. The 99.9% of scientists who believe that climate change is anthropogenic, are up against a largely un-educated senate, who are rarely comprised scientifically trained individuals, who still think the entire thing is a hoax being pushed by China, or some other malevolent power.

US Energy Consumption by Energy Source
Coal Natural Gas Petroleum Nuclear Renewables
2007 22.5 23.4 39.1 8.4 6.5
2008 22.6 24.1 37.3 8.5 7.3
2009 20.9 24.9 37.1 8.9 8.1
2010 21.4 25.2 36.4 8.6 8.4
2011 20.3 25.7 35.9 8.5 9.4
2012 18.4 27.6 36 8.5 9.3
2013 18.5 27.5 35.6 8.5 9.7
2014 18.3 27.8 35.4 8.5 9.9
2015 15.9 28.9 36.5 8.5 9.9
2016 14.6 29.2 36.9 8.6 10.5
2017 14.2 28.7 37.1 8.6 11.3
2027 Projected 5.9 34 35.1 8.8 16.1

If you look at the numbers it is clear that the 11.3% of energy consumption in the US that is deemed renewables, at best will reach 16.1% in ten years’ time if there is no radical policy change like the New Green Deal or driven by a new President who promised everyone action.

Given the amount of emissions that the US is responsible for, the rest of the world will miss its 1.5 degrees centigrade warming rise target, and overshoot, possibly past the more disturbing 2 degrees target, after which we run into “tipping point” scenarios where all the ice melts, and large populations of carbon eating sea creatures die-off due to a) high sea temperatures and b) Acidic sea conditions.

When you look at the problem comparing electricity generated, rather than used, you get a slightly better total, but this is basically a fake position. Renewables are generally less controllable as a source and the amount used is the right figure to look at, as less reliable sources are rarely fallen back on.

However the Department of energy tried at least to put a strong renewables spin on the report, saying that US renewable electricity grew to 19.7% of total installed capacity and 17.7%, up around 1.4%. In the next sentence it damns the US with faint praise, pointing out that globally, renewable electricity capacity reached 32.2% of global capacity – way ahead of the US. If President Trump wanted to make the US great again, he should have taken the lead in renewables, instead of having a love affair with the Dakota Access pipeline carrying dirty energy across the US.

The report is produced by US Department of Energy’s (National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and this year’s edition is the first to include data and trends for electric vehicles and energy storage.

“Since the first Data Book release 10 years ago, we’ve seen U.S. renewable electricity generation grow from 8.5 percent of total generation in 2007 to 17.7 percent in 2017—more than doubling its share of the generation mix—with generation from solar and wind increasing by a factor of 10,” NREL Energy Analyst Sam Koebrich said. “This year, we expanded the Data Book to include information on emerging technologies including energy storage and electric vehicles, providing additional insights analysts, investors, and policymakers can use to assess U.S. and global renewable energy deployment and industry trends.”

So let’s look at the electric vehicles data. It said merely that 195,600 plug-in electric vehicles (PEV) were sold in the US in 2017 in 50 different models from two-seaters to SUVs; and the Tesla Model S and Chevy Bolt, were the front runners with 26,500 units and 20,000 units respectively.

Other insights say that US wind capacity grew by 6.8 gigawatts and that solar electricity capacity went up to 8.9 gigawatts. In storage some 1,395 MW of utility-scale electrochemical, electromechanical, and thermal storage systems were installed in the US by end of 2017. Pumped-hydro storage was the largest contributor to US storage installed capacity with 21,640 MW.

In 2017, all new utility-scale storage installations in the United States were electrochemical but this amounted to just 106.6 MW – a tiny amount. Prior to that Molten Salt projects were used to act as battery storage of solar, back in the 2007 timeframe – which can hold the energy for up to a week. And yet Electrochemical battery projects have grown from 8 MW in 2007 to 228 MW in 2017, which corresponds with a CAGR of 39.8%.

The average duration of electrochemical batteries installed in the United States in 2017 was 3.1 hours with an average capacity of 7 MW and renewable-paired storage accounted for 47.2% (658.5 MW) of installed utility-scale storage capacity in the US. Suffice it to say that there is room for a lot more and that almost all renewable energy sources will have storage attached to them, once the two costs, turbine plus storage, achieve parity with a gas turbine. At present the generation has achieved parity, but storage is less easy to cost justify. Arizona, California and Nevada as the US states which are strongest in paired renewables at present.

By the time the 2020 numbers are in, we would expect to see a radical transformation of all these numbers, because we are assuming at this point, the US will be well and truly back on the climate change agenda, and will use its access to cheap aggressive finance, to leapfrog many other countries.