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U.S. still lags behind other nations in share of renewable energy

June 11, 2012|By Ronald D. White
  • A solar electric power generating system collects energy In Ivanpah, Calif. Among nations, only China spent more than the U.S. on renewable energy projects in 2011.
A solar electric power generating system collects energy In Ivanpah, Calif.… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

The U.S. still lagged behind other nations in 2011 in the share of energy it gets from renewable sources, in spite of a more than 300% increase in funding for green power projects over the last decade.

That's the finding of a report released Monday by the Natural Resources Defense Council, which looked at green power efforts in both advanced and emerging economies around the world.

European countries still have massive debt programs, double-dip recessions and fragile banking systems, but the NRDC found that those problems haven't stopped them from getting much higher percentages of their total energy production from renewable sources.

Germany, for example, got 10.7% of its overall electricity production last year from renewable sources, followed by Italy at 6.2% and Britain at 4.2%, the report said. Among Asian nations, Indonesia was a leader with a 5.7% share of its electrical power generation from renewable sources.

But the U.S. got just 2.7% of its electricity from renewables in 2011, putting it just slightly ahead of Mexico, at 2.6% Among the world's biggest economies, however, there were worse performers. China got just 1.5% of its electricity from renewables last year. Japan got only 1% from renewable sources.

On the positive side, favorable governmental policies and strong private-sector investments have helped increase the availability of renewable energy in the U.S. and other countries, said Jake Schmidt, the NRDC’s International Climate Policy Director. But Schmidt said that those efforts were also under attack.

“Unfortunately, the very policies that have increased our renewable energy supplies and reduced our dependence on dirty fossil fuels are now under fire in the United States and elsewhere,” Schmidt said. “That’s not just a threat to the thousands of new jobs being created by the renewable energy industry, but also a threat to our health, our environment and our planet.”

Schmidt said global leaders at the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development needed to commit collectively and individually to "increase the amount of renewable energy to 15% of total electricity by 2020 -- more than doubling what is predicted under current trends.”

Meanwhile, a separate report also released Monday and prepared by the UNEP Collaborating Center for Climate and Sustainable Energy Finance and Bloomberg New Energy Finance said that a record $257 billion was spent on renewable energy investment in 2011. That was a sixfold increase over the 2004 amount and a 94% increase above 2007, the year before the global recession.

Among nations, only China surpassed the U.S. in investment in renewables last year, with $52 billion compared to $51 billion in the United States, the report said. Among regions, Europe remained the leader in 2011, with $101 billion invested in renewables in 2011, the report said.

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