Solar Energy Production Increased by 20 Percent in 2021, National Laboratory Finds

According to the latest energy flow charts from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Americans used 5% less energy in 2021 than they did in 2020. Each year, LLNL releases flow charts that illustrate the nation’s consumption and use of energy. In 2021, Americans used 97.3 quads (quadrillion BTU) of energy, which is 4.4 quads more than last year’s 92.9 quads, equivalent to a 5% increase. 2020 and 2021’s annual energy consumption totals are lower than 2018, 2019, and 2019, which saw Americans consume more than 100 quads each year.

The biggest increases in energy use were due to petroleum and coal, which grew by 14% and 9 percent, respectively. This increase in coal-derived electricity is the first since 2014 and the largest increase for over a decade. It is hypothesized that it is due to higher natural gas prices in 2021. This hypothesis is supported by the stagnation of natural gas-derived energy between 2020 and 2021 (a decrease of <1%). The transportation sector was almost entirely responsible for the 90 percent increase in petroleum-derived fuel.

“Simply put, as Americans are reemerging from the pandemic, transportation usage is increasing back to pre-pandemic levels,” says Kimberley Mayfield, co-principal investigator for LLNL’s Energy Flow Charts.

The last year saw dramatic increases in solar and wind energy production, with jumps of 20% & 11%, respectively. Biomass-derived energy also increased by 7 %. These increases were in contrast to hydro, geothermal, and nuclear power which fell by 12%, 44%, and 1% respectively. The dramatic drop in hydropower is due in large part to extreme drought conditions in western United States. While hydroelectric power generation dominated the renewable energy sector for decades, solar and wind energy appear to be gaining a commanding lead – producing more than double the electricity of hydroelectric power in 2021.

“As climate change continues to impact the global hydrologic cycle, I believe we will continue to observe greater growth in solar and wind energy sectors than hydropower,” Mayfield adds.

The U.S. carbon flowcharts 2020 and 2021 show that the national carbon dioxide (CO2) emission increased from 4,555 to 4863 million tonnes, which is a 7% increase.

“This increase is especially notable because, between 2019 and 2020, we previously observed an 11 percent decrease in carbon dioxide emissions,” states Hannah Goldstein, co-principal investigator and energy technology analyst at LLNL. “This increase is a combined result of the increase in coal utilization for electricity generation and increases in the petroleum-based transportation sector, likely a result of COVID restrictions being lifted as the world returns to pre-pandemic conditions.”

Image: Photo by Andreas Gücklhorn on Unsplash