By Roy L Hales
Listening to the percentages, it sounds like America’s usage of green energy sources made strong gains during the first half of 2014. They supplied 10.4% more electricity than last year. Utility scale solar is up almost 116%. Renewable electricity is up 14%, but are we winning?
Coal Is Still King
Impressive as these gains sound when viewed as percentages, there is still little perceivable drop in fossil fuel usage.
Coal is America’s preferred fuel. Though natural gas leads the nation in terms of installations, its electricity production actually dropped 1.3%. Despite strict regulation and the fact that no new coal plants are coming online – coal usage is up 5.5%! The reason: coal is cheaper.
Though half of the responding utilities in a recent utilities poll said they were replacing their coal and nuclear facilities with natural gas (another fossil fuel!), this choice is dictated by necessity rather than preference.
Yet America’s energy portrait is changing. Three colors dominate the map above, which depicts installations for this coming year. The dominant color in the West is yellow (utility-scale solar). Green (wind energy) is strong in the central states. The reddish-brown spots in Texas and the northeast are natural gas plants. There is a single grey (coal) facility in Mississippi.
Most of the grey dots are found on another map: retiring generating units.
Natural Gas Replacing Coal
Close to 24% of America’s coal powered plants do not conform to the new EPA regulations. As many as 16% may retire and not undergo costly retrofits, with most of these located in the eastern half of America.
Natural gas plants have been replacing coal since 2000. According to the EIA, by 2035 LNG fueled plants should supplant coal.
Renewables Will Replace Natural Gas
The renewable sector should eventually supplant natural gas. They have already, in terms ofinstallations. 53.8% of new installations up to the end of July were from “green” sectors, as opposed to 45.9% LNG.
According to Allan Hoffman, a retired senior executive from the DOE, the renewable sector could be supplying 50-60% of America’s energy by 2050. (He believes that natural gas will still be in use.)
The result will be a healthier America.
The EPA calculate that recent changes to carbon pollution standards, alone,“will avert up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks every year. The value of the air quality improvements for people’s health alone totals $37 billion to $90 billion each year. That means that for every dollar spent to reduce this pollution, Americans get $3-9 in health benefits.”
Top Photo Credit: Poppy and solar farm courtesy juwi Renewable Energies Limited via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)