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The Latest Data Contradicts Myths About Renewable Energy

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October 26th, 2014 by

Examining the latest data from EIA and Fraunehofer ISE.

Originally published in the ECOreport.

The biggest news to come out of the US Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) report for August is that utility solar’s production of electricity is up 93.6% over last year. This is the principal reason that the renewable contribution is up 9.6%, and only half of the story. The EIA does not record production from rooftop solar (which means solar’s overall contribution is significantly higher) and production figures are down in every fossil fuel sector. This trend is also seen in the latest figures from Germany, where solar production is up 7.7%, wind 8%, and biomass 11% over last year. The latest data contradicts myths about renewable energy.

Myth one: Renewable energy does not replace fossil fuels, but rather ensures their use will be perpetuated.

myths about renewable energy 1

The graph above shows German electrical production for the first nine months of 2014. Note that the only increases are in the solar, wind, and biomass sectors. Brown coal usage is down 4.9%, hard coal down 14.8%, and gas down 19.8% over last year.

Germany’s renewables have produced 31% of that nation’s electricity, far more than in the US, but the trends are similar.

The graph below is drawn up from the EIA data from August 2014. As was the case in Germany, the only sectors “in the black” are wind, solar, and biomass.

myths about renewable energy 2

Coal (39%) and natural gas (31.5%) are still the principal sources of US electricity. The renewable sector only contributed about 10% and about half of that was from non-hydroelectric sectors like wind, solar, and biomass.

The good news is this is changing, the renewable sector is growing.

Myth Two: You need fossil fuel backup for every renewable energy facility.

A German company called Younicos wants to see battery storage plants replace 25 of of that nation’s fossil fuel burning plants. Their 5 MW plant at Schwerin has already proven that battery packs are faster ramping up and more efficient. Though batteries do not provide a total solution — they get expensive when used for long periods of time — they are ideal where there is a need for fast ramping up or down. Phillip Hiersemenzel of Younicos said battery storage plants could carry 60% of the load in Germany.

Myth Three: The adoption of renewable energy has not led to the  retirement of a single fossil fuel plant.

The map below shows plants that will be replaced up until August 2015. The vast majority of the dots are coal plants (grey). There are a few natural gas plants (reddish brown) and “other” (blue). Aside from the “other,” these are all fossil fuel plants.

myths about renewable energy 3

The map below shows what they are being replaced by. There is a lot of solar in Southern California, wind energy in the middle of America, and natural gas in the East.

myths about renewable energy 4

The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal” campaign spells this picture out more clearly on its “Victories” page. 178 coal plants have been retired. They claim that 75,334 “dirty megawatts” have been replaced by 66,400 clean energy megawatts.

This is the same trend being reported by the EIA and Frauenhofer.

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