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Outlook The Facts Behind


Renewable Energy Usage


Renewable energy sources provided about 12% of total US utility-scale electricity generation in 2012, the latest full year for which data was available at the time of publication. Te largest share came from hydroelectric power (56%), followed by wind (28%), biomass wood (8%), biomass waste (4%), geothermal (3%), and solar (1%). Electricity generation from renew-


able resources is primarily a function of generation capacity and the availability of the resource. Te history of electricity generation has been different for each renewable source: • Nearly all of the hydroelectric capacity was built before the mid- 1970s, and much of it is at dams operated by federal agencies.


• Biomass waste is mostly municipal solid waste which is burned as fuel to run power plants.


• Most of the electricity from wood biomass is generated at lumber and paper mills. Tese mills use their own waste to provide much of their own steam and electricity needs.


• Te amount of installed wind gen- eration dramatically increased in the past decade, due in part to fed- eral financial incentives and state government mandates, especially renewable portfolio standards.


• Unlike other renewable sources, a significant amount of solar power is generated by small-scale, customer- sited installations like rooſtop solar (or, distributed generation). According to the Annual Energy Outlook 2013, these small facilities were projected to generate 14.13 billion kW-hr of electricity in 2013.


Hydroelectric generation increases in some years and decreases in others, pri- marily due to variation in the amounts of rainfall and snow melt occurring in watersheds where major hydroelectric dams are located. Te availability of bio- mass and geothermal energy is generally consistent over the short term as is the generation from these resources. Te availability of wind and solar energy has daily and seasonal patterns, so resulting generation fluctuates widely.


Electricity generation from renewable resources is primarily a


function of generation capacity and the availability of the resource.


China leads in total electricity gen-


eration from renewable energy due to its recent massive additions to hydro- electric capacity, followed closely by the US, Brazil, and Canada. However, the US produces the most electricity from non-hydroelectric renewable sources, followed by China and Germany. Although most renewable energy


power plants have less environmental impact than fossil and nuclear power plants, there are two main reasons why we don’t use more renewable energy: • Renewable energy technologies are oſten expensive—Renewable energy power plants can be more expensive to build and to oper- ate (in terms of dollars per unit of electricity output) than natural gas or even coal plants.


• Renewable resources are oſten geographically remote. Many renew- able resources are available only in remote areas, and building transmis-


Energy Information Administration


US Department of Energy Washington, DC


sion lines to deliver power to large metropolitan areas is expensive.


Tere are, however, three different kinds of policies to boost the use of renewables:


• Tax credits—Te Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit, a federal incentive, has encouraged a major increase in generation from wind and other eligible sources.


• Targets—Many states have Renew- able Portfolio Standards (RPS), which require electricity providers to generate or acquire a certain portion of their power supplies from renewable sources. However, many RPS programs have “escape clauses” if renewable generation exceeds a cost threshold.


• Markets—A number of states have built Renewable Energy Cer- tificates/Credits (RECs) into their Renewable Portfolio Standards. Tis allows electricity providers to sell renewable energy certificates/ credits. Some states have made REC markets mandatory, requiring electricity providers to produce or acquire renewable generation to re- duce reliance on fossil fuels to gen- erate electricity. Detailed informa- tion on federal and state renewable energy policies are available from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency.


This report was prepared by the staff of the US Energy Information Administra- tion, the statistical and analytical agency of the US Department of Energy. SME thanks the Department of Energy for its assistance in providing this material.


Energy Manufacturing 2014 27


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