US renewables ready to take off

Posted: 18 September 2006

Renewable resources currently provide just over 6 per cent of total U.S. energy, but that figure could increase rapidly in the years ahead, according to a report released today

Wind farm at sunset, Palm Springs, California. Photo: Warren Gretz/NREL
Wind farm at sunset, Palm Springs, California. Photo: Warren Gretz/NREL
Wind farm at sunset, Palm Springs, California© Warren Gretz/NREL
Many of the new technologies that harness renewables are, or soon will be, economically competitive with fossil fuels. Dynamic growth rates are driving down costs and spurring rapid advances in technologies, says the report from the Worldwatch Institute and the Center for American Progress.

Since 2000, global wind energy generation has more than tripled; solar cell production has risen six-fold; production of fuel ethanol from crops have more than doubled; and biodiesel production has expanded nearly four-fold. Annual global investment in "new" renewable energy has risen almost six-fold since 1995, with cumulative investment over this period nearly $180 billion.

"With oil prices soaring, the security risks of petroleum dependence growing, and the environmental costs of today's fuels becoming more apparent, the country faces compelling reasons to put these technologies to use on a larger scale," notes the report. Some of the findings include:

Wind potential

  • America boasts some of the world's best renewable energy resources, which have the potential to meet a rising and significantshare of the nation's energy demand. For example, one-fourth of US land area has winds powerful enough to generate electricity as cheaply as natural gas and coal, and the solar resources of just seven southwest states could provide 10 times the current electric generating capacity.

  • All but four US states now have incentives in place to promote renewable energy, while more than a dozen have enacted new renewable energy laws in the past few years, and four states strengthened their targets in 2005.

  • California gets 31 per cent of its electricity from renewable resources; 12 per cent of this comes from non-hydro sources such as wind and geothermal energy.

  • Texas now has the country's largest collection of wind generators. The United States led the world in wind energy installationsin 2005.

  • Iowa produces enough ethanol that, if consumed in-state, would meet half the state's gasoline requirements.

    Ethanol fuel pump
    Ethanol fuel pump
    Ethanol fuel pump.Photo: Energy Saving Now.

  • Renewable energy creates more jobs per unit of energy produced and per dollar spent than fossil fuel technologies do.
  • Despite strong public support and rapidly rising interest in renewable technologies, the US has not kept up with the rapid growth in the sector globally over the past decade. If the US is to join the world leaders in renewable energy - among them Germany, Spain, and Japan - it willneed world-class energy policies based on a sustained and consistent policy framework at the local, state, and national levels.