Amid the petro boom, don’t forget renewables

The national conversation on energy production has been focused, and rightly so, over the past couple of years on the boom in oil and natural gas. U.S. oil production is a 15-year high and last year saw the greatest jump in production since the industry began in 1859. This energy boom is not restricted to oil. Due to breakthrough technologies in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, U.S. natural gas production is also at an all-time high. This combined activity drove a whopping $138 billion in capital investment in 2011.

It’s hard not to focus on these numbers. But the U.S. has another energy story to tell. The country’s renewable energy resources have grown steadily over the last several years as federal investments have helped the emerging wind and solar industry come into their own.  In 2011 the wind industry installed more than 6,800 megawatts (MW) of capacity, with total generating capacity exceeding 51,000 MW produced from over 40,000 turbines.

Despite these significant generating capacities, wind energy accounted for only 3 percent of total electricity generation 2011.  While this number may seem insignificant, wind has grown exponentially over the past decade and is the second-most utilized renewable source of electricity, after hydroelectric power.

The U.S. solar industry shares a similar story. The nation now has over 6,400 MW of installed solar electric capacity, enough to power more than 1 million American households. The third quarter 2012 was the third largest on record for the U.S. solar industry and raised the total installed capacity through the first three quarters of the year to 1,992 megawatts (MW)- already surpassing 2011’s annual total of 1,885 MW.

The trajectory and bright future of the renewables industry is something we should not lose sight of. BP projects that by 2030, electricity will be the fastest growing source of energy, and the U.S. renewables industry will grow by 202%.

Consumer Energy Alliance is committed to furthering the growth of the U.S. renewable energy. In our report to the 113th Congress, “Recommendations for a Balanced Energy Policy,” we provide lawmakers with several ways to improve on U.S. support for renewables, including ways to expand renewable energy production and transmission by reforming the way renewable projects are permitted at the local and state level.  We believe the U.S. should continue its support for renewable technology, but shift its resources to focus on research and development programs that could help wind and solar increase their competitiveness in the energy marketplace. Further, CEA encourages federal and state regulators to implement measures that would help streamline transmission lines that would transport renewable electricity to the population centers that need it.

We help to promote education of renewable energy sources through our K-12 education outreach program, Houston Energy Day. Energy Day helps school-aged children better understand the role of energy in their lives and how they can participate in creating the energy of the future through a focus on STEM education.

In a city dominated by the oil and gas industry, we also coordinate and sponsor the Houston Renewable Energy Network, a group of renewable energy professionals dedicated to furthering their industry and promoting renewable energy sources. HREN will be meeting this week to hear comments from Houston-based Endicott Biofuels and Sabine Biofuels who will provide an overview of the biodiesel industry and its economics.

Consumer Energy Alliance believes we need an all-of-the-above energy policy that embraces our natural resources and uses them to the betterment of our economy and environment.