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Consumption of Energy from Coal and Renewables

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Because the human contribution to climate change comes primarily from the burning of fossil fuel to create energy, it is essential that we do one of two things: reduce energy consumption, or switch to energy produced by renewable sources. It is especially important to get away from energy produced by burning coal, for it is the worst emitter of carbon dioxide and other pollutants.

Figure 1. Data source: Department of Energy.

Figure 1. Data source: Department of Energy.

In this post I will look at trends in consumption of energy produced from coal and from renewables. In the data from the U.S. Department of Energy, Renewable Energy includes Hydroelectric, Biomass, Geothermal, Solar, and Wind. Figure 1 shows consumption of energy produced from coal in Missouri and 4 surrounding states from 1960-2013.

(Click on chart for larger view.)

The first thing I notice is that until the mid-1970s and early-1980s, neither Arkansas nor Kansas show any appreciable consumption of energy from coal. I don’t believe it. I believe this is a problem with the data, perhaps related to delayed onset of reporting from these states. Missouri also shows a steep increase in consumption of energy from coal during the 1970s and 1980s, perhaps for the same reason.

During 1990s there was a significant increase in energy consumption from coal in all 5 states. Starting in the first decade of the 21st Century, consumption peaked and started to decline in 4 of them, but not in Arkansas. In 2013, however, energy from burning coal appears to have rebounded in 4 out of the 5 states (not Iowa).

Figure 2 shows the amount of energy consumed from renewables as a percentage of the energy consumed from coal. If this percentage is 50%, then half as much energy from renewables is consumed as energy from coal. If it is 100%, then equal amounts of each are consumed. If it is 200%, then twice as much energy from renewables is consumed as energy from coal. If we truly want to switch from coal to renewables, then we want this ratio to be well above 100%.

Figure 2. Data source: Department of Energy.

Figure 2. Data source: Department of Energy.

As noted above, there may be a problem with the coal energy reporting from Arkansas and Kansas. Thus, for Figure 2 I will only look at the years 2001-2013. All states have increased their consumption of renewable energy compared to coal energy, especially Iowa. In Iowa, the consumption of the two is approaching parity. Way to go, Iowa!

In Missouri, we have increased our consumption of renewable energy from 4.6% of coal energy to 11.7%. That’s a significant gain, but it still means that for every bit of renewable energy we consume, we consume more than 7 units of coal energy. Ugh, disgusting, the worst performance of any of the 5 states!

Sources:

State Energy Data System (SEDS), U.S. Department of Energy. This is a data portal. Select Consumption Statistics, then Sector, Total end-use. Data downloaded 6/14/2016 from http://www.eia.gov/state/seds/seds-data-complete.cfm?sid=IL#Consumption.

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