The U.S. Department of Energy this week touted the growth of solar power, complete with an impressive chart that boasts, “Solar Generation Has a Bright Future.” Yet a closer look at solar’s overall role reveals that it represented just 0.14 percent of the total electric power generated and consumed in June.
The chart below, provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, shows the projected output of solar since 1999, with estimates projecting solar power to produce 18,000 megawatt hours per day in 2013.
The Energy Department pointed to the projection in glowing terms. “A growing solar industry,” it said, “presents a tremendous economic opportunity for the United States.”
The projection is fairly close to solar’s current output, according to the latest information from the EIA’s “Electric Power Monthly” report for June. Solar thermal and photovoltaic sources generated around 16,700 megawatt hours per day that month.
Total net generation and consumption for June, however, approached 361,800,000 megawatt hours, or approximately 12,000,000 megawatt hours per day.
So how does solar stack up?
Coal provided 36.4 percent of June’s output, with natural gas supplying another 32.1 percent. By comparison, wind generation stood at 3.2 percent of the month’s overall total.
The six-month total from EIA, showing output from January 2012 to June 2012, paints an even bleaker picture of solar’s contributions to the electric grid. With net generation of just 1,664,000 megawatt hours of the nearly 2 billion megawatt hours derived from all energy sources over the first half of the year, solar energy’s portion of net generation stood at just 0.09 percent.
Solar generated less than 10 percent of the energy derived from wood and other wood-derived fuels and was the smallest contributor to the overall energy grid.
“When proponents of renewables talk about a complete transition away from fossil fuels, it’s important to put in perspective just what that would take,” says Nicolas Loris, Herbert and Joyce Morgan Fellow at The Heritage Foundation’s Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies.
“Renewable sources may very well play a greater role in our energy portfolio, but that should be driven by markets and competition, not subsidies and mandates.”