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Renewable Energy Sees Explosive Growth During Obama Administration

Two recently-issued federal studies underscore the dramatic growth in electrical generation from geothermal, solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources during the first three and one-half years of the Obama Administration.

According to the latest issue of EIA's "Electric Power Monthly" with data through to June 30, 2012, non-hydro renewable sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, solar, wind) provided 5.76% of net electrical generation for the first half of 2012. This represents an increase of 10.97% compared to the same period in 2011. Solar increased by 97.2% while wind grew 16.3% and geothermal by 0.2%. However, biomass dipped by 0.8%. For the first six months of 2012, wind contributed 3.84% of net electrical generation followed by biomass (1.40%), geothermal (0.43%), and solar ** (0.09%). Conventional hydropower accounted for an additional 7.86% of net electrical generation in 2012 - a decline of 14.3% compared to the first half of 2011.  

During 2008, the last full year of the Bush Administration, non-hydro renewables accounted for 3.06% of net electrical generation with an average monthly output of 10,508 gigawatthours. By mid-2012, the average monthly electrical generation from non-hydro renewables had grown by 78.70% to 18,777 gigawatthours. Comparing monthly electrical output in 2008 versus 2012, solar has expanded by 285.19%, wind by 171.72%, and geothermal by 13.53%. However, electrical generation from biomass dropped by 0.56%. 

According to the latest issue of the monthly "Energy Infrastructure Update" published by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's Office of Energy Projects with data for the first half of 2012, 229 renewable energy projects accounted for more than 38% of new electrical generation capacity (not to be confused with actual generation). This includes 50 wind energy projects (2,367 MW), 111 solar energy projects (588 MW), 59 biomass projects (271 MW), 5 geothermal projects (87 MW), and 4 water power projects (11 MW).

New renewable energy electrical generating capacity was more than double that of coal (2 new units totaling 1,608 MW). No new nuclear capacity came on line during the first half of 2012. However, 40 new natural gas units came on line with 3,708 MW of capacity (42% of the total). Renewable energy sources now account for 14.76% of total installed operating generating capacity (water-8.66%; wind-4.30%, biomass-1.23%, geothermal-0.31%, solar**-0.26%). This is more than nuclear (9.16%) but less than natural gas (41.83%) and coal (29.66%). The balance comes from waste heat (0.07%).

The numbers speak for themselves — notwithstanding politically-inspired criticism, the pro-renewable energy policies pioneered by the Obama Administration have proven their worth through dramatic growth rates during the past three and one-half years. The investments in sustainable energy made by the federal government as well as individual states and private funders have paid off handsomely underscoring the short-sightedness of proposals to slash or discontinue such support.

Lead Image: Grass arrow via Shutterstock

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