Renewable energy supply and consumption in the United States

renewable energy supply and consumption

When people think of renewable energy supply, they generally assume solar is first, followed maybe by wind. Nope. As the chart shows, biomass is the biggest by far. It includes wood and waste burned to generate electricity and heat, and biofuel, which is added to gasoline. Wind is next, followed by the energy source most everything ignores or takes for granted, hydropower! Solar is a distant fifth.

Biofuel is controversial. Dubya Bush started the program to lower the price of gasoline, make it burn cleaner, and to give midwest farmers, whose support Republicans need, a gigantic new crop to grow. Most biofuel for gasoline comes from corn. States like Iowa really rely on the income this provides.

Biomass isn’t sexy and doesn’t get much attention. However it is super eco-friendly. Waste wood left over in processing and sometimes harvested dead trees are burned to generate power. Biomass waste in landfills is also used. This is a double win because most of this would have been landfilled. Instead, it generates electricity.

Why is there way more wind power than solar power? It might just be economics, including siting and construction. A big solar PV plant on land can cover hundreds, sometimes thousands of acres. The biggest land wind turbine generates 4.8 MW (enough for roughly 4,000 US homes.) The average solar PV panel generates about 400 watts, so would require 12,000 panels to equal one turbine. Offshore, the numbers are even bigger. The new Siemens Gamesa offshore turbine is a ginormous 14 MW.

Interestingly, offshore is now preferred because the turbines are so huge they are actually easier to install in the ocean plus there are no NIMBYs.