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Energy Key Findings: January 2013

Renewables Advance in 2012 but Shale Gas Still Energy’s Shining Star

Renewables Advance in 2012 but Shale Gas Still Energy’s Shining Star

Shale muscle

Last year was a mixed bag for renewable energy resources, but a continued boon for shale gas in the U.S. Hydrofracturing (fracking) of shale deposits has provided access to a surplus of clean, abundant natural gas at low prices — making it tough for struggling renewables to compete.

Utilities shifted electricity generation from coal to natural gas, decreasing carbon dioxide emissions to the lowest levels in two decades. Even China plans to get on the shale gas bandwagon to feed its growing energy appetite.

Similar drilling technologies have led to a surge of oil production in the United States that could within a couple of decades—with the help of rigorous fuel economy standards—enable North America to produce as much energy as it consumes.

Prospects for solar, wind, biofuels and advanced vehicles “took a decidedly bearish turn” in 2012, however, hybrid vehicle technology is finally profitable. The extension of several key tax credits for 2013 added onto the “fiscal cliff” legislation now offer at least a 12-month window for biofuels and domestic renewable energy resources to stay alive in the market.

While numerous solar panel companies went out of business last year, startups continue to push forward with new solar technology. The U.S. Department of Energy set an ambitious goal to bring the cost of solar power down to six cents per kilowatt hour, less than half of what it is now.  Improvements to conventional silicon solar cells that both increase efficiency and lower manufacturing costs are making strides. But to compete with natural gas at a large scale—in the United States now, and perhaps in other places as shale gas is developed around the world—it may need to achieve even lower costs.


  • Small buildings comprise nearly 90 percent of the nation’s commercial buildings and use 50 percent more energy per square foot than larger facilities in part due to inefficiencies, according to the most recent Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. (
  • Aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) wastes gas. It can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and by 5 percent around town. Sensible driving is also safer for you and others, so you may save more than gas money. (
  • Wind power currently supports 75,000 good quality, well-paying jobs. The U.S. Department of Energy found that with the right policies in place, by aiming for 20% of our electricity needs fueled by wind power by 2030, industry could support roughly 500,000 jobs in the U.S., with an annual average of more than 150,000 workers employed directly. (
  • 2012 was the hottest year in history. The average temperature across the contiguous United States in 2012 was 55.3° (3.2° above normal). This ranks as the warmest year since records began in 1895. (
  • As of January 2013, the Energy Information Administration reports that exports have risen 217% in the last 10 years, most recently rising to nearly three million barrels per day. The amount of products exported amounts to over 16% of what Americans consume every day. (

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