Wind and Solar Won’t Replace Oil
As tragic as the oil spill is, reports are conflating energy sources that are used much differently. Reuters is one of many papers that fails to distinguish petroleum production for the transportation sector and renewable generation for the electricity sector. Reuters’ Richard Cowen reported on May 4th that Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) “told reporters the oil spill should expedite alternative energy legislation, which would encourage the use of cleaner power sources, such as wind and solar.”
What Reuters and others fail to point out is how little petroleum fuels our electricity sector. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, In January 2010 coal provided 48.3 percent of electricity with nuclear energy and natural gas contributing about one fifth of our country’s electric power. Hydroelectric power produced 6.1 percent and other renewable electricity such as biomass, wind and solar contributed 3.7 percent. At the bottom was petroleum, which provided 1.2 percent – petroleum liquids at .9 percent and petroleum coke at .3 percent.
The only way wind and solar would displace oil use in the United States is if we completely transformed our transportation sector to an electric one, which would clearly be a massive overhaul. Biofuels and switchgrass is another option but for those sources to replace oil would take unprecedented amount of production, are more expensive and present their own environmental challenges.