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Wed Apr 9, 2014, 07:25 PM

Renewable tipping point already reached in US power generation

Last edited Thu Apr 10, 2014, 08:05 AM - Edit history (1)

...and soon, this will happen globally.
What got me started was running across the below yesterday:

Wind was responsible for 4.8 percent of Americaís electricity used in January. Thatís the highest January total ever, breaking the record from last January, which broke the record for the January before that, and so on.


from U.S. Wind Power Blows New Records. Again. And Again.

This got me started looking for the primary source for this report over at the EIA, which I managed to find, after a while. Useful links are as follows:

http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.cfm?t=epmt_1_01_a
http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/browser/

It is true that wind made up 4.77% of all electric power generated in January. But that's not the big news. This is the big news:



That's a graph of non-renewable (minus hydro, wind, biomass, and solar) electric power generation since 2001, measured in thousands of megawatts. Notice it peaked in 2007 and has been steadily declining since then.
To be crystal clear, total electric power production continues to rise (*EDIT: Correction to that. As pointed out by Muriel Volstanger below, total power production has declined some since 2007. After taking account of that decline, renewables account for 63% of the decline in non-renewable power production.) But the portion of that power produced by non-renewable sources is now on a steady decline.
The reason why is in this next graph, which is the net change in power produced by wind:



Notice the big jump from 2007 to 2008. 2008 was the year wind began to increase by enough to begin elbowing out other forms of power production. In other words, in power production, we've already reached the tipping point: renewable power production is slowly, steadily eroding away the non-renewable portion, and will continue to do so.

But even that's not the big news. The biggest news is in this graph:



This is the net change in power produced by solar. It jumped in 2012, and again in 2013. Solar is now adding enough capacity every year that it too is starting to make a difference. The interesting thing about solar, though, is the pace of change. Whereas wind added capacity at a more or less steady pace of 20 to 30% per year and is still doing so, solar's pace in the past few years has been this:

2009 - 3.13%
2010 - 36.03%
2011 - 50%
2012 - 138.01%
2013 - 113.82%

There's definitely something different going on here. And no sooner did I think this, then I ran across this story:

Global solar dominance in sight as science trumps fossil fuels

Solar power has won the global argument. Photovoltaic energy is already so cheap that it competes with oil, diesel and liquefied natural gas in much of Asia without subsidies.
...
The technology is improving so fast - helped by the US military - that it has achieved a virtous circle. Michael Parker and Flora Chang, at Sanford Bernstein, say we entering a new order of "global energy deflation" that must ineluctably erode the viability of oil, gas and the fossil fuel nexus over time.
...
Michael Liebreich, from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, says we can already discern the moment of "peak fossil fuels" around 2030, the tipping point when the world starts using less coal, oil and gas in absolute terms, but because they cannot compete, not because they are running out.
...
For the world it portends a once-in-a-century upset of the geostrategic order. Sheikh Ahmed-Zaki Yamani, the veteran Saudi oil minister, saw the writing on the wall long ago. "Thirty years from now there will be a huge amount of oil - and no buyers. Oil will be left in the ground. The Stone Age came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil," he told The Telegraph in 2000. Wise old owl.


So, for the world, renewables, led by solar, are going to take over very quickly. We're over 400 ppm of CO2 right now, but the light at the end of the CO2 tunnel is in sight, and within the lifetimes of the younger folks, those below 30, renewables will be the fuel that makes the world go.

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Arrow 7 replies Author Time Post
Reply Renewable tipping point already reached in US power generation (Original post)
Benton D Struckcheon Apr 2014 OP
LiberalEsto Apr 2014 #1
rhett o rick Apr 2014 #2
Benton D Struckcheon Apr 2014 #3
pscot Apr 2014 #4
mindwalker_i Apr 2014 #5
muriel_volestrangler Apr 2014 #6
Benton D Struckcheon Apr 2014 #7

Response to Benton D Struckcheon (Original post)

Wed Apr 9, 2014, 07:38 PM

1. Great post!

 

Thank you!

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Response to Benton D Struckcheon (Original post)

Wed Apr 9, 2014, 07:53 PM

2. Tell the President to stop the XL Pipeline. nm

 

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Response to rhett o rick (Reply #2)

Wed Apr 9, 2014, 07:53 PM

3. Good point. n/t

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Response to Benton D Struckcheon (Original post)

Wed Apr 9, 2014, 08:24 PM

4. This is all good

but unless China and India quit building coal fired generators we're pissing into the wind.

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Response to Benton D Struckcheon (Original post)

Wed Apr 9, 2014, 08:27 PM

5. Somebody should attach a wind turbine

to Mitch McConnell's face. It would provide low but completely steady power generation for the foreseeable future.

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Response to Benton D Struckcheon (Original post)

Thu Apr 10, 2014, 05:51 AM

6. One correction - US electricity production has also declined since 2007

From your source:

2007:
total: 4156745
non-renewable: 3798663
renewable: 358082
of which wind: 34450

2013:

total: 4058209
non-renewable: 3527814
renewable: 530395
of which wind: 167665

So the increase in wind is still the biggest factor in the decrease in non-renewables, but after that, it's less use overall.

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Response to muriel_volestrangler (Reply #6)

Thu Apr 10, 2014, 07:59 AM

7. You're right.

Got it mixed up with another chart I downloaded that had total energy use, which has risen since 2007. I'll see if I can correct that up there.

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