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U.S. has a long way to go to reduce reliance on fossil fuels

October 24, 2011 |  1:29 pm

Solar panels cover the parking structure at the Applied Materials Inc. Maydan Technology Center in Santa Clara. (David Paul Morris, Bloomberg)

At 407 pages, the U.S. Energy Department's just released Annual Energy Review contains more than you'll ever want to know about the nation's power production and consumption. On the other hand, you'll never be at a loss for words, or facts, on the subject.

Examples abound.

Is per capita household energy consumption in the U.S. declining because of programs emphasizing efficiency? Answer: no. It has remained essentially flat for 38 years, since the Arab oil embargo of 1973.

The reasons? A long-term shift to larger homes requiring more energy has been countered by a population shift to warmer climates in the South and West, requiring less heat. Electronic devices are far more efficient, but there are also a lot more of them around the typical home than ever before.

Will the country move sharply away from fossil fuels in the coming decade? Answer: maybe. Even with mandates for greater use of renewable energy, the nation still has as very long way to go. Energy consumption by source is as follows: petroleum 37%, natural gas 25%, coal 21%, nuclear 9%, renewable energy 8%.

The breakdown on renewables: hydroelectric power 2.5%, wood 2%, biofuels 1.9%, wind 0.9%, waste 0.5%, geo-thermal 0.2%, solar/photovoltaic 0.1%.

What about U.S. energy production by share of source? It's still firmly entrenched in fossil fuels. About 22% comes from natural gas. Another 22% comes from coal. About 12% comes from crude oil. The remainder comes from nuclear (8%), biomass (4%), natural gas liquids (3%) and hydroelectric (3%). Geothermal, solar/PV and wind together amount to just 1%.

What states consume the most energy? Texas is well ahead of No. 2 California on that score. But California, by far the nation's most populous state, shines in a related category: it's fifth among states with the lowest per capita energy consumption, behind New York, Rhode Island, Hawaii and Massachusetts. Texas is among the five states with the highest per capita energy consumption.


Many California solar projects are on track

California has one of every four solar jobs 

California targets tax exemptions for renewable energy firms

— Ronald D. White

Photo: Solar panels cover the parking structure at the Applied Materials Inc. Maydan Technology Center in Santa Clara. Even with new mandates to increase energy from renewable sources, it still supplies only a fraction of the nation's energy needs. Credit: David Paul Morris / Bloomberg