"Renewables" Consist Mostly of Hydro, Wood

By Energy Information Administration

Enthusiasts of renewable energy were celebrating last week when a chart released by the Energy Information Administration showed that the overall contribution of renewable energy to the nation’s total energy consumption has now slightly surpassed that of nuclear power.  However, there may be less here than meets the eye.  An examination of the EIA's chart defining "renewables" shows that the principal contribution (37%) comes from large hydroelectric dams, most of which were built in the middle of the 20th century.  (Ironically, large dams are generally excluded from “renewable mandates” dictating present-day construction.)  The second largest contribution (28%) comes from wood, which is used mostly in home heating, although some utilities are now being encouraged to substitute wood for coal in electrical boilers.  Biomass – the third largest contributor (24%) – largely comes from the 40 percent of the corn crop now being turned into ethanol.  It also includes some farm wastes and even municipal garbage that is being burned in electrical boilers.  Windmills make the smallest contribution (11%), although there has been a definite uptick over the last three years.  Solar electricity, the most admired form of renewable energy, does not make enough of a contribution to register on the chart.  According to Figure 6 in the EIA package, non-hydro renewables’ contribution to the electrical grid is not expected to match nuclear until 2035.  [http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/pdf/perspectives_2009.pdf]

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