Thursday, October 4, 2012

How much does U.S. consume fossil fuels and renewables?

United States is still the world's largest energy consumer. Despite the growing popularity of renewable energy sources such as solar power, wind power and biofuels, fossil fuels are still the dominant energy sources in United States and satisfy most of the nation's energy demand.

The recent data shows that fossil fuels currently account for 84% of nation's energy demand. Oil still accounts for approximately 40% of nations' energy demand, while coal is the major source of US electricity accounting for around 49% of total US generated electricity. The third member of fossil fuel triad, natural gas, currently supplies around 23% of US energy demand, with many energy experts expecting natural gas share to grow in years to come, especially after the ever-growing shale gas extraction.

These numbers clearly show that fossil fuels are still the most important energy sources in United States, and that renewable energy industry still has plenty work ahead in order to challenge the dominance of fossil fuels.

Hydropower and biomass are currently the most important renewable energy sources in United States, wind is also looking quite good, while solar energy sector is fast developing.

Hydropower currently satisfies around 7% and biomass around 4% of nation's energy demand. In the period from 2000-2010 wind power was the fastest growing renewable energy source in United States, and nation has even set a goal of achieving 20% of electricity coming from wind by 2020. If U.S. really wants to achieve this goal it will have to put a lot more emphasis to offshore wind energy.

The much talked about solar power is more making headlines in media instead of actually having significant impact in nation's energy use. Many Americans believe in solar power as the best possible renewable energy option but despite the huge popularity solar power currently satisfies less than one percent of nation's energy demand. This is mostly because solar panels are still relatively expensive, and somewhat inefficient compared to efficiency of fossil fuels.

US is global leader in installed geothermal capacity but this doesn't mean much when it comes to energy use because geothermal energy currently meets less than 1% of nation's energy needs, which is way too little given the geothermal potential of some US states such as California and Nevada.

Given the current situation it is logical to expect that fossil fuels will continue their dominance when it comes to nation's energy use simply because renewable energy needs time to develop desired efficiency and costs. Without reaching competitiveness in terms of efficiency and costs renewable energy cannot seriously challenge fossil fuels, even with the strong federal and local support.