EIA report shows growth of renewable energy sources

Source: Robert Pore • Grand Island Independent  • Posted: Monday, January 9, 2012

For the first nine months of 2011, renewable energy sources – biomass/biofuels, geothermal, solar, water and wind – provided 11.95 percent of domestic U.S. energy production. That compares to 10.85 percent for the same period in 2010 and 10.33 percent in 2009.

— Looking at all energy sectors – electricity, transportation and thermal – renewable energy output, including hydropower, grew by 14.44 percent in 2011, compared to 2010. Among the renewable energy sources, conventional hydropower provided 4.35 percent of domestic energy production during the first nine months of 2011, followed by biomass (3.15 percent), biofuels (2.57 percent), wind (1.45 percent), geothermal (0.29 percent), and solar (0.15 percent).

— On the consumption side, which includes oil and other energy imports, renewable sources accounted for 9.35 percent of total U.S. energy use during the first nine months of 2011.

“Notwithstanding the recession of the past three years, renewable energy sources have experienced explosive rates of growth that other industries can only envy,” said Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “The investments in sustainable energy made … have paid off handsomely underscoring the short-sightedness of emerging proposals to cut back on or discontinue such support.”

Bossong’s statement is true for what ethanol production has done to help Nebraska’s economy during the ongoing recession.

Ethanol production has become one of the driving engines of Nebraska agriculture. It’s also a contributing factor to higher commodity prices for both crops and livestock, and a factor in higher agricultural land prices because of the wealth that ethanol production has created.

According to the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) – a lobbying organization which promotes policies, regulations and research and development initiatives that lead to the increased production and use of ethanol fuel – America’s ethanol industry has been in a state of rapid evolution since the beginning of 2000. RFA noted “record-setting production, policy development and market expansion have all moved forward with dramatic speed and helped to create the world’s largest, most efficient, most cost effective renewable fuels industry.”

The RFA has created a list of the top five ethanol stories for 2011:

— EPA gives final approval to E15 for MY2001 and newer vehicles – For the first time ever, Americans driving conventional vehicles have the opportunity to choose ethanol blends in excess of 10 percent.

— The end of VEETC and the secondary tariff – Without protest, U.S. ethanol producers allowed the $0.45 per gallon tax incentive for ethanol blending to expire. The offsetting secondary tariff on imported ethanol will also expire.

— U.S. exports set all-time highs – An estimated one billion gallons of denatured and undenatured ethanol – gallons never blended with gasoline or eligible for the tax incentive – were exported in 2011. Additionally, U.S. exports of ethanol feed co-products, largely distillers grains, also surged. An estimated 8 to 9 million metric tons of this high value livestock feed was exported in 2011.

— Restarting the advanced and cellulosic ethanol engine – A number of advanced and cellulosic ethanol companies – including Abengoa, Coskata and Mascoma – are beginning construction on ethanol biorefineries that will expand America’s ability to fuel its economy with a broader range of renewable feedstocks.

— Emergence of the integrated biorefinery model – Today, about 40 percent of all ethanol facilities are capturing and selling corn oil. An ever-increasing number of ethanol producers are also deploying technologies to produce proteins, biochemicals and other co-products that can further displace oil in marketplace.

The top five stories to watch for U.S. ethanol in 2012, according to RFA, are:

— First commercial availability of E15 blends for vehicles made in 2001 or later – The RFA is working to finalize federal requirements to certify E15 blends. Once completed, getting E15 blends into the marketplace becomes a state-by-state march, with some states like Iowa and Illinois ready to go as soon as the federal requirements are completed.

— Free and fair trade of ethanol – In addition to being the world’s largest producer, consumer and exporter of ethanol, American ethanol producers are also the lowest cost producer. With this emergence, new challenges from ethanol interests in other nations have arisen. Whether it is the European Union anti-dumping investigation or the vacillating ethanol policies in Brazil, a fair resolution to trade challenges will be important to the continued growth and evolution of domestic ethanol production.

— Legal activity – The upcoming year promises to see a great deal of legal activity surrounding American ethanol use. The recent ruling by a federal judge that California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) is unconstitutional will be appealed. And arguments in the oil/food processing/environmental lobbying industry lawsuit against EPA’s approval of E15 have yet to be heard.

— Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) challenges – The RFA anticipates opposition to the RFS to intensify in 2012.

— Answering cellulosic ethanol challengers – Construction is slated to begin on commercial scale cellulosic ethanol biorefineries with production to follow in early 2013. These facilities would be the first commercial-scale project of their kind in the world. In order to assure these efforts are successful, Congress must renew key tax provisions for cellulosic ethanol producers before they expire at year’s end.