Renewable energy surpasses nuclear in first quarter US energy mix

July 6, 2011

Energy Central’s Renewables Biz reports that US energy supplied by the renewables sector has surpassed that provided by nuclear in the first quarter of 2011.  Based on the EIA’s Monthly Energy Review, this is claimed to be an important threshold.  However, a closer look at the data shows that this is not a unique circumstance.  In fact, renewables have matched or surpassed nuclear several times in recent years, as the chart below indicates.

While the current uptick appears at first glance to be greater than those of the past 27 months, a closer look at the data is warranted.  When we break down the EIA’s numbers for renewables, we find the following:

(the numbers above are monthly production in Quadrillions of BTUs)

The data indicate that geothermal and solar energy production was largely stable year-to-year plus modest increases in biomass and wind energy.  However, there was a very large increase in hydro-lectric power.  Over 60% of the 2010 to 2011 increase in renewable energy production comes from the hydro sector.  That surge is probably weather related and will abate (for comparison, there was just a .002 decrease between Q1 2009 and Q1 2010).  Thus, it is reasonable to assume that the “lead” that the renewable sector has taken over nuclear is an artifact, and that, for the near future at least, the two will remain roughly equal in their contributions to the nation’s energy mix.


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