Domestic Energy Supplies Scorecard

In 2013 Renewable Wind and Solar power generation individually grew by very strong levels of 22% and 34% respectively, and high carbon intensity coal power declined significantly.  These growth patterns were due to various Government regulatory actions and Market based factors.  Other Renewable energy sources unfortunately did not experience as strong of growth as Wind & Solar power and actually declined in some cases.  Oil & Gas also experienced strong growth levels in recent years.  Base on actual energy supplied how did the various U.S. domestic Renewable and Non-Renewable Energy sources growth rates compare overall during 2013?

U.S. Renewable Energy Supplies Growth in 2007-2013 – Development of Renewable Energy supplies have been strongly supported by many past and the current Government Administrations, and various State and Federal regulations.  Renewable energy has been advocated as the primary solution to improved U.S. Energy Independence or Security and reduced Carbon Emissions.  The growth of different Renewables has varied in recent years.  Refer to the following Figure 1.

Figure 1 – U.S. Renewable Energy Supplies 2007-13 

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Data Source: EIA MER ‘Table 1.2 - Primary Energy Production by Source’.  Biomass includes wood, biowaste and biofuels.  Note: 2013 total annual energy supply is a projection based on 2013 Jan-Sept data and 2012 9-month and total annual energy supply data. 

The EIA data shows that Wind, Solar and Geothermal energy supplies all grew significantly and consistently each year since 2007.  Wind power has clearly grown at the largest rates annually of all Renewable Energy sources 2007-13.  Hydropower, which achieved a 35-year high in 2011, has declined significantly over the past two years and its energy generation trend appears to be relatively constant on average over the past 10 years.  Biomass also achieved a historic high level of domestic energy supply in 2011, but has unfortunately declined over the past two years.  This Biomass energy decline is due primarily to a reduction in wood and biofuels supplies.

Regulations and Other Factors that have Impacted U.S. Renewables Growth – The growth of different Renewable Energy sources have been affected by a broad range of factors including technology developments, regulatory support changes, market competition and environmental impacts.  The following are some of the more significant factors that have facilitated or constrained Renewables in recent years:

  • Wind Power – turbine technologies and installed capacities have primarily benefited from drive train improvements and ‘economy of scale’.  Wind Power growth has been very strongly supported by the ‘Production Tax Credits’ (PTC) that provide about an average of 50% subsidies based on average wholesale power prices.  These subsidies expired at the end of 2013.  Those Wind projects completed before or under construction during 2013 will still qualify for up to 10 years of PTC subsidies following startup.  Wind Power is also indirectly supported by various States’ ‘Renewable (Power) Portfolio Standards’ (RPS).    
  • Solar PV Power – has grown at a relatively small total generation rate compared to Wind Power.  Solar panel costs have been reduced very substantially in recent years due to fabrication technology improvements and strong Global Market competition.  Similar to Wind Power, Solar PV has benefited greatly from various State RPS support and associated tax incentives; and more recently, retail market based ‘net metering’ credits strongly supported by many States’ regional PUC’s.
  • Geothermal Power – has grown at modest, but relatively consistent rates each year.  Even though Geothermal Power is supported by various State and Federal regulations and the levelized costs appear competitive with other Renewables, new development appears to be constrained by economic and possibly limited geographical resource access factors.  The primary economic factor is likely due to relatively low cost Natural Gas in recent years.
  • Hydropower – has historically been the largest Renewable Energy source until about 20 years ago when Biomass energy supplies began to surpass Hydropower.  Hydropower recently peaked in 2011 and began declining significantly due to the combination of recent droughts and increasing operation restrictions to possibly minimize downstream environmental impacts.
  • Biomass – energy generation from biowaste has grown slowly, but relatively steadily over the past 10 years.  Wood supply, the largest Biomass energy source, has been relatively flat and slightly declining due to increasing environmental constraints for uncontrolled burning; particular material (PM) emissions or smoke.  Biofuels, the second largest Biomass energy source was increasing at very strong rates until 2011 due to ‘Renewable Fuel Standards’ (RFS) and very generous 45 cent/gallon Federal subsidies.  At the end of 2011 the conventional corn ethanol subsidies expired, and in 2012-2013 total biofuels production has begun to decrease.  How much is due to loss of these subsidies and the recent shutdown of some inefficient ethanol biorefineries is yet to be determined.

U.S. Renewable and Non-renewable Energy Supplies Growth in 2007-2013 – Similar to Renewables, Non-Renewable Fossil Fuels and Nuclear energy growth have varied in recent years.  Refer to the following Figure 2.

Figure 2 – U.S. Primary Energy Production by Source 2007-13 

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Data Source: EIA MER ‘Table 1.2 - Primary Energy Production by Source’.  ‘NG + Liquids’ include the total of Dry Natural Gas and Natural Gas Liquids production.  ‘Other Renew’ includes Hydropower, Geothermal, and Biomass.  Note: 2013 total energy supply by ‘Primary Source’  is a projection based on 2013 Jan-Sept data and 2012 9-month and total annual energy supply data. 

The EIA data clearly shows that since 2008 Natural Gas + Liquids is the No.1 source of U.S. energy supply followed by Coal and Crude Oil.  While the total Renewables exceeds Nuclear energy supply, the sum of Hydropower + Biomass or ‘Other Renewables’ energy supplies continues to be slightly less than Nuclear Power.  The combination of Wind + Solar currently provides the least amount of U.S. domestic energy supply.

Factors that have Impacted U.S. Non-Renewable Energy Growth – The growth of different Non-Renewable Energy sources, or Fossil Fuels and Nuclear, have also been affected by a broad range of technology developments, regulatory, market and environmental factors.  The following are some of the more significant factors that have facilitated or constrained Non-Renewables in recent years:

  • Natural Gas and Crude Oil – both these fossil fuels have grown at the greatest rates of all U.S. domestic primary energy sources 2007-2013 (just over 5 Quadrillion Btu’s per year each).  Natural Gas grew at larger rates 2007-2011 and Crude Oil grew at the largest rate over the past two years.  Both these Fossil Fuels grew as a result of the technology breakthroughs in ‘hydraulic fracturing’ and ‘horizontal/branched drilling’.  Hydraulic fracturing facilitated the production of ‘unconventional’ Shale Gas and Shale or Tight-(Crude) Oil from the extensive reserves located around the Continental U.S.  Government support and regulations had minimal impact on U.S. domestic Oil & Gas production in recent years.  Refer to a recent TEC Post.  Although U.S. Oil & Gas Companies historically have received significant Government tax support, the level of unit (per Btu) financial support has been very small compared to Renewables.  The largest factors that have impacted Oil & Gas production growth levels are due primarily to Free Market fundamentals.  Due to a combination of substantial increased production, growing infrastructure-pipeline constraints, and 10-year low market prices, Natural Gas production growth rate has begun to flatten recently.  Due to further developments of Tight-Oil drilling technologies and historic high market prices, Crude Oil production growth rates continue to increase in recent years.
  • Coal – has been in decline since 2008.  The decline in Coal energy has been due to a combination of more restrictive EPA regulatory actions including: 1) Clean Air Act regulations to substantially reduce existing and new Coal Power Plant stack emissions (SOX, PM and heavy metals), 2) new Coal Plant carbon emission constraints, and, 3) increasing Coal Mine Clean Water Act restrictions.  A major Free Market factor that has also substantially reduced the economics and production of Coal has been relatively low cost Natural Gas.  Since 2007 fuels switching from coal-to-natural gas has been the largest factor to reduced Coal demand within the U.S.
  • Nuclear – has been fairly constant over the past 10 years.  The number of operating units-reactors actually dropped from 104 to 100 during 2013.  This is the first decline in Nuclear reactor generation facilities since the 1990’s; and this change could lead to reduce average power generation in future years unless recently permitted new facilities are actually constructed as planned.

U.S. 2013 Domestic Energy Supplies Growth Scorecard – Over the past year (2013) there has been a lot of debate and commentary over which domestic energy sources have grown the most to meet the needs of the U.S. and which energy sources have failed to meet expectations.  Many of these discussions are further confused by presenting and debating inconsistent data.  To avoid the confusion of mixed annual energy supply data a ‘Performance Scorecard’ was developed to more accurately and consistently compare the increases and decreases of individual primary energy supply sources during 2013.  Refer to the following Figure 3.

Figure 3 – Performance Scorecard: U.S. Primary Energy Production 2013 Changes by Source 

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Data Source: EIA MER ‘Table 1.2 - Primary Energy Production by Source’.  ‘NG + Liquids’ include the total of Dry Natural Gas and Natural Gas Liquids production.  ‘Other Renew’ includes Hydropower, Geothermal, and Biomass.  Note: 2013 total energy supply by ‘Primary Source’  is a projection based on 2013 Jan-Sept data and 2012 9-month and total annual energy supply data. 

In 2013, the increase of Crude Oil production exceeded all other primary energy sources.  Increased Crude Oil production supplied almost 3-times as much energy as the sum total of Natural Gas + Liquids and Wind + Solar.  A major change in 2013 was that Natural Gas + Liquids energy growth rate declined and only exceeded Wind + Solar by about 10%.  Despite shutdown of 4 reactor generation units in 2013, Nuclear Power net generation growth still increased slightly and was only 10% less than Solar Power.  Both Other (non-Wind/Solar) Renewables and Coal energy production declined very significantly during 2013.

Impacts of Increased U.S. Primary Energy Growth in 2013 – Both Crude Oil and Wind + Solar experienced outstanding growth during 2013.  Growth of Natural Gas + Liquids was not so impressive, and Other Renewables’ decline (primarily biofuels) was somewhat disappointing.  Reduction in Coal and essentially no growth in Nuclear were mixed depending on the perspective of specific interest groups.

To more fully cover the impacts of the growth and decline of different U.S. primary energy sources in 2013 should include the consumption performance of the various fuels by all End-use Sectors and the impacted energy markets.  In addition the impacts on U.S. Energy Security and Carbon Emissions also need to be covered.  These details will be included in a future TEC Energy and Policy Developments Post: “U.S. 2013 Domestic Energy Supplies Growth Scorecard – Part 2”.