While it’s true that renewable energy has been on the rise in the last hundred years, it’s also interesting to note that it hasn’t been taking over fossil-fuels.
When the US was founded in 1776, all energy requirements were sufficiently provided by burning wood, for heat and cooking and some industrial applications. Once fossil fuels got into the mix, starting with coal and petroleum, and natural gas later, we could do more with our energy.
A little over a century ago, the first renewable energy plants came online, hydroelectric dams. About fifty years ago, the first nuclear plants came online. Other renewables started coming online in the last forty years or so, and have seen a significant spike in the last decade, especially with the boom in wind- and solar-energy platforms.
This is good news, right? Unfortunately, not according to research completed by the US Energy Information Administration [EIA]. One particular recent EIA chart shows the energy diversity in the US over the last 235 years, since 1776. The results are not encouraging for those who are pushing for a completely renewable energy plan.
Yes, US energy sources are diversifying, but the overall numbers continue to rise. This essentially means that, even when renewable energy is on the rise, it isn’t replacing another energy source, but keeping up with increasing demand. Fossil fuels vie for dominance, as can be seen in the natural gas spike and concurring drop in petroleum and coal usage.
Look down at that tiny little spike of “other renewables” and you’ll see that the US needs a huge change if those other renewable energy sources are ever going to make a dent in the 78 quadrillion Btu worth of non-renewable energy use. Hydroelectric and other renewable energy amount to just 8 quadrillion Btu in 2012.
What needs to be done? Policy makers need to look at ways to increase energy efficiency and take non-renewable energy plants offline. Renewable energy installations need to be big enough to replace older and dirtier technology. Instead of looking for new ways to use fossil fuels, we should be looking for new ways to stop using them. Well, the US is addicted, after all. Going straight might be painful.