Americans are continuing to use more renewable energy resources. Use of natural gas, solar panels, and wind turbines were up in 2012, while use of coal declined as a means to generate electricity, according to the recent U.S. energy charts released through research conducted by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

Fewer Footprints

Each year, the Laboratory releases energy flow charts that track the nation’s consumption of energy resources.

Natural gas use increased, especially in the electricity generation sector, where the report says it has basically substituted directly for coal, while sustained low natural gas prices have prompted a shift from coal to gas in the electricity generating sector, said A.J. Simon, an energy systems analyst at LLNL.

The report credited the rise in the use of renewable energy to price and policy — with the cost of both solar panels and wind turbines decreasing and government incentives affording national and state rebates to installers.

Americans used 2.2 quadrillion Btu, or quads, less in 2012 than they did during 2011. Wind power saw the biggest gains, going from 1.17 quads produced in 2011 to 1.36 quads in 2012. New wind farms continue to sprout, with bigger, more efficient turbines developed in response to government-sponsored incentives spurring investment.

Extraordinary declines in the prices of photovoltaic panels helped solar energy rise from 0.158 quads in 2011 to 0.235 quads in 2012, owing that shift to a global oversupply.

2012 also was the first year in at least a decade where there was a measureable decrease in nuclear energy, cited the study.

“It is likely to be a permanent cut as four nuclear reactors recently went offline, with two units at San Onofre in California, as well as power stations at Kewaunee in Wisconsin and Crystal River in Florida,” Simon said. “There are a couple of nuclear plants under construction, but they won’t come on for another few years.”

Coal and oil use fell off in 2012, but natural gas saw a big boost, climbing to 26 quads in 2012, up from 24.9 quads in 2011.

The report said the majority of energy use in 2012 was used for electricity generation (38.1 quads), followed by transportation, industrial, residential, and consumption. Energy use in the residential, commercial, and transportation sectors decreased while industrial energy use increased slightly, the study revealed.

Information courtesy of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, Calif. on behalf of the U.S. DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

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Publication date: 10/21/2013 

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