Just the Facts: Sustainable Energy in America

Sustainable_Energy_America_2015The size of this year’s update to the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook is a testament to just how strong the renewable energy market is these days. Published by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) with underwriting from the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, the Factbook is 144 well-packed pages of data that attests the vibrancy of an energy sector that only two years ago could be summarized in something just bigger than a brochure.

This year’s version, however, shouts out those changes — underscoring, as BNEF says, that “the U.S. energy sector is decarbonizing.” It’s a concept as well as a term that was almost nonexistent at the turn of the 21st century — and now seems to sum up the state of power generation in this country.

Accomplishments that made the list this year include:

  • 93 percent of the new power infrastructure that has been built since 2000 went to support “natural gas … or renewable energy projects.” *
  • $386 billion has been invested in sustainable energy since 2007, averaging $35 billion to $65 billion each year. In 2014, that investment rose 7 percent over the previous year to $51.8 billion.
  • Coal has regained a tiny part of the energy market share in the past two years, but its historic slide from 49 percent in 2007 to 37 percent in 2012 is a reflection of its waning strength. With its market share now hovering around 39 percent, says BNEF, “‘structural’ trends – especially the retirement of coal plants – are underway that will probably lead to long-term increased market share for natural gas.”
  • Better fuel and vehicle efficiency and other innovations that have resulted in less vehicles on the road are taking a toll on gas consumption. Since 2005, gasoline consumption has dropped 8.6 percent.
  • Natural gas production is up 25 percent, bolstered by improvements in technology and a surging demand.
  • U.S. shale drilling is also up — 41 percent since 2007 — due to developments in new technology.
  • Crude oil production in the U.S. has shot up 41 percent since 2007, when it averaged 5.1 million barrels a day, to 9 million barrels a day in 2014.

The Factbook also credited the Obama administration’s various clean energy programs for helping to incentivize the renewable energy sector. The Clean Energy Plan, which sets recommended clean energy goals for states, has helped encourage new initiatives in states like Minnesota and California — where solar, wind and other clean energy models are being promoted through private investment.

The Factbook offers a pretty broad overview of factors related to green business practices — many more than can be listed here: from a breakdown of the current leaders in power generation to the cost of ownership of today’s more popular vehicles. The message one gets from this year’s Factbook is that green living isn’t about choosing which fuel offers the least carbon emissions or how much we don’t drive, but rather how we factor those reductions into the innovative and holistic strategies we use to meet our sustainability goals.

* The report does not distinguish in this statement whether it is referring to non-renewable natural gas or renewable natural gas in the executive summary (pg 8), but since the distinction was not made in its footnote, we will assume it is referring to infrastructure related to non-renewable gas sources.

 Image courtesy of Bloomberg Finance L.P. and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy

Jan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

5 responses

  1. Let’s try “Just the Facts,” people. The report does not say 93% is renewable. It says 93% is from “natural gas, wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, or other renewables.”
    Natural gas is not renewable. It is also not sustainable.

    1. Thanks for your comment, George.
      The wording differences on this point in the executive summary (pg. 8) and pg. 19 do not clarify whether they are talking about non-renewable natural gas or biomethane (also referred to as renewable natural gas; please see link), but the ES suggests that they are referring to the renewable sector as it relates to new infrastructure since 2000. But to be clear, I’ve added this in a footnote, and weighed in on the point you made, since both are brief in their statements.
      Thanks again for bringing this question up!

  2. I like how the car share industry squeezed in the “other innovations resulting in fewer cars on the road” line.
    Because every ride with a car share actually is MORE miles driven than if the person transported owns a car – although fewer cars parked.
    Oh, and the general debilitation of the American middle class doesn’t have anything to do with the “fewer cars on the road”.
    The majority of American car buyers seek to spend $25,000 or less; it wouldn’t surprise me that a big chunk of the fuel “savings” is solely due to this phenomenon of buying tiny cars – whatever the reason.
    Actual vehicle miles driven is flat vs. 2005 although lower than 2007 peak – so if there are truly fewer cars on the road – the ones left are driving more, not less.

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