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Efficiency, Natural Gas, Renewables Transforming US Energy

Manufacturing Group | February 1, 2013

US renewable energy capacity doubles just in the past five years, according to a new report.

The United States is consuming energy considerably more efficiently and with lower emissions than just five years ago thanks to a slew of modern technologies that are changing decades-old patterns, research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance and industry group the Business Council for Sustainable Energy find in a new report.

The Sustainable Energy in America 2013 Factbook portrays a dynamic and rapidly changing U.S. energy landscape. Natural gas and renewables have gained market share largely at the expense of conventional resources. Energy efficiency is also making a major impact, and as a result energy demand has fallen steeply.

From 2007 to 2012, natural gas rose to 27.2% of total energy consumption (including electricity, heat, and transportation) from 23.4%, while renewables including wind, solar, biomass and hydropower have jumped to 9.4% from 6.4%. Meanwhile, during the same period, coal declined to 18.1% from 22.5% and oil fell to 36.7% from 39.3%. The winner of all this is U.S. emissions. From 2007 to 2012, U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions declined 13%.

“Significant changes are occurring in the US energy sector that are boosting investment and accelerating deployment of a range of commercially available clean technologies,” says Lisa Jacobson, president of Business Council for Sustainable Energy. “The 2013 Factbook outlines these dynamics and provides the very latest data, not just on how much is being invested or how much is getting built, but on today's costs for these technologies. Our hope is that the report serves as a useful tool for policymakers and investors seeking the very best benchmarks in the energy sector.”

The Factbook highlights how energy efficiency is increasingly becoming a priority, particularly among large power consumers such as manufacturers who are being ever more cost-conscious. U.S. utility budgets for efficiency expenditures reached $7 billion in 2011 (the latest available date for which data exists), and financing for energy efficiency retrofits has become increasingly sophisticated, propelling further greening of U.S. buildings. Since 1980, energy intensity of commercial buildings has fallen by more than 40%. Overall, energy demand decreased by 6.4% from 2007 to 2012 largely due to efficiency gains and despite economic growth.

Renewable energy sources are being built quickly while renewable energy production costs are plummeting. The total installed renewable capacity has more than doubled in the five years between 2008 and 2012. The cost of electricity generated by average large solar power plants has fallen from 31 cents per kWh in 2009 to 14 cents per kWh in 2012 (excluding the effect of tax credits and other incentives, which would bring those costs down even lower). Over the same period, the cost of power from a typical large wind farm has decreased from 9 cents per kWh in 2009 to 8 cents per kWh.

Evolution of the transport sector mirrors that of power, prompted by advances in technology and new fuel economy requirements. Sales for hybrids and plug-in vehicles reached 488,000 units in 2012 and natural gas use in the transport sector increased by 26% over 2008-11.

“These new energy technologies, which some still claim aren't ready for prime time, are already making a major impact on US energy,” says Ethan Zindler, Head of Policy Analysis at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “And the US has only begun to receive the full benefit of lower prices for clean energy equipment."

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