A revolution is transforming how Americans produce, consume, and even think about energy.
Traditional sources are in decline, while natural gas, renewables and energy efficiency are on the rise.
These changes, which show no sign of abating, have far-reaching implications for US economic and national security interests. They are increasing the diversity of the country’s energy mix, improving our energy security, and rapidly shrinking our carbon footprint – a major positive development for addressing climate change.
Behind this revolution are a slew of new energy innovations, technologies, and applications. These include: newly applied techniques for extracting natural gas from shale rock formations; lower-cost and higher-efficiency photovoltaic panels for converting sunlight to electrons; highly efficient, natural gas end-use applications; vehicles fuelled by electricity and natural gas; and „smart meters? that allow consumers to monitor, modulate, and cut electricity consumption.
The U.S. is increasing its share of renewable energy while decreasing its overall energy consumption and emissions, finds a new report released jointly by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.
According to the report, U.S. renewable energy consumption – including from wind, solar, biomass and hydropower – jumped from 6.4% in 2007 to 9.4% in 2012. In comparison, natural gas rose from 23.4% to 27.2% during that time period. Meanwhile, U.S. consumption of coal declined from 22.5% in 2007 to 18.1% in 2012, and oil consumption fell from 39.3% to 36.7%.
Renewable energy sources are being built quickly, and renewable energy production costs are plummeting. The cost of power from a typical large wind farm has decreased from $0.09/kWh in 2009 to $0.08/kWh in 2012, the report notes. Meanwhile, the cost of electricity generated by average large solar power plants has fallen from $0.31/kWh in 2009 to $0.14/kWh in 2012 (excluding the effect of tax credits and other incentives, which would bring those costs down even more).
Thanks to these developments, the U.S.’ total installed renewable energy capacity has more than doubled in the five years between 2008 and 2012.
In addition, energy efficiency is increasingly becoming a priority, particularly among large power consumers. U.S. utility budgets for efficiency expenditures reached $7 billion in 2011 (the latest available date for which data exists), and financing for energy efficiency retrofits has become increasingly sophisticated, propelling the further greening of U.S. buildings, the report notes. Overall, energy demand decreased by 6.4% from 2007 to 2012, largely due to efficiency gains.
As a result of all of these factors, combined with more fuel-efficient vehicles, U.S. energy-related carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions dropped 13% during that time period and now stand at their lowest levels since 1994, the report says.