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Summary:

Things are looking up for renewable energy, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The agency just released “Electric Power Industry 2007: Year in Review,” and for the first time, renewables (not including hydro-electric power) led the way in new electric generation […]

Things are looking up for renewable energy, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The agency just released “Electric Power Industry 2007: Year in Review,” and for the first time, renewables (not including hydro-electric power) led the way in new electric generation capacity in the U.S.

Total new net summer capacity — which is tested during the summer peak demand period — increased by 8,673 MW in 2007, with wind accounting for the biggest percentage of that new capacity, at 5,186 MW. Natural gas and coal accounted for most of the remaining increase.

Things look good for the future, too. Over the next five years, renewable energy could make up 20 percent of the new capacity in the pipeline, although with the current global credit crunch, some of those planned projects could get dumped.

Overall numbers for renewables looked less stellar. Renewable energy contributed 2.5 percent, or 105 million megawatt hours, of total net generation in 2007. That’s the fourth consecutive year that the number has gone up, but wood biomass and wind power currently make up most of that 2.5 percent, with geothermal and biomass from other sources accounting for the rest.

But the EIA report isn’t all about utility-scale power, there are also more businesses and homes feeding small-scale renewable energy back into the grid. With net metering, people are credited on their bill for any excess electricity they send to the utilities. In 2007, there were 48,820 customers, mostly residential, participating in net metering programs across the country. That’s way up from just five years earlier, when there were only 4,472. And which state is leading the way in net metering? California, with 34,910.

But Texas beat out California in a different ranking, coming out on top for so-called “green pricing” programs. That’s where business and residential users can specifically purchase renewable energy from their utility. A total of 835,651 customers in the U.S., again mostly residential, went with a green pricing program, with Texas accounting for 17 percent. Oregon came in at No. 2 with 12 percent, and California had to settle for the No. 3 spot with 7 percent.

It wasn’t all good news. Carbon dioxide emissions by electric generators and combined heat and power facilities increased by 2.3 percent in 2007, to 2.52 billion metric tons, up from 2.460 billion. That reverses a decline in CO2 emissions reported for 2006.

By David Ehrlich

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  1. We are not quite at the tipping point yet, because the technology is not quite there.

    In a few years time however, with better technology and a carbon pricing system in place, nearly all the new capacity will be clean. Combine that with old plant closing down, and the effect will be extremely rapid.

    One of the problems with clean tech is that so many people have tried to push technologies that were not efficient, (Ethanol being the most obvious) that money has been wasted on second rate solutions. Spend the available money wisely, and we get more bang for our buck.

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  2. On 1.27.09 @ 1 p.m. ET Frost & Sullivan will host a free presentation on the Impact of Recent Economic Crisis and its Effects on U.S. Electric Utility Sector to attend email analystbriefings@frost.com

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