In the face of continued grim economic news, we may finally have found a silver lining. While we have all been adversely affected by 2008’s financial crisis, the slow down in economic activity has also translated into a reduction in energy usage. At the same time, the country’s energy generation as a whole has shifted from traditional fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. And while the reason behind these changes may not be ideal, when it comes to energy consumption in the United States, using less and getting more (from renewable sources) is certainly a step in the right direction.
According to a report recently released by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) report, in 2009 Americans used less energy and got more of their power from renewable resources, than in previous years. According to the report, when compared to 2008, the United States used “significantly less coal and petroleum,” and while using “significantly more” wind, solar, hydro, and geothermal power.
In a statement, LLNL energy systems analyst AJ Simon said, “Energy use tends to follow the level of economic activity, and that level declined last year. At the same time, higher efficiency appliances and vehicles reduced energy use even further. As a result, people and businesses are using less energy in general.”
A breakdown of the report’s essential information:
* Energy use in the residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation arenas all declined by 0.22, 0.09, 2.16, and 0.88 quads, respectively.
* Wind power increased dramatically in 2009 to 0.70 quads of primary energy, compared to 0.51 in 2008. Most of that energy is tied directly to electricity generation and thus helps decrease the use of coal for electricity production.
* Nuclear energy use remained relatively flat in 2009. No new plants were added or taken offline in this interval, and the existing fleet operated slightly less than in 2008.
* Of the 94.6 quads consumed, only 39.97 ended up as energy services.
* The significant decrease in coal used to produce electricity can be attributed to three factors: overall lower electricity demand, a fuel shift to natural gas, and an offset created by more wind power production, according to Simon.
Unfortunately, while the energy usage information is headed in the right direction, the report does little to highlight the role onsite power generation played in increased efficiency, reduced energy usage, and the increase in renewable energy for residential and commercial power. In fact, the report explicitly eliminates distributed energy from the equation, stating in its energy usage chart that, “distributed electricity represents only retail electricity sales and does not include self-generation.” Additionally, according to Simon, LLNL concluded that “energy services, such as lighting and machinery output, are harder to estimate than fuel consumption,” and so it is unclear how much of this energy use reduction can be attributed to greater lighting and industrial efficiency.
So what do you think? Is the reduction in energy use a fluke directly connected to our economic downturn? Or is the switch from coal to wind power production a permanent switch? And, how long can “the powers that be” talk about increased energy efficiency and reduced power demand without discussing the role of onsite power and distributed energy?