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Renewable energy: Americans are optimistic, but not quite right

What do Americans know about energy? Not as much as they think they do, according to a Makovsky survey of more than 1,000 residents across the United States.
Turns out that Americans are a bit overly optimistic about the role that renewable energy plays in the US. The average American believes that 20 percent of our energy use comes from renewables-11 percent from solar and 9 percent from wind.
The reality is quite different. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), solar is at 1 percent and wind is at 2 percent.

Looking five years out, Americans expect solar to be at 20 percent and wind at 14 percent. That's still optimistic. EIA forecasts that in five years solar will account for 1 percent and wind for 3 percent.
What does this disparity show? That the renewables industry has done a really good job of highlighting its success and positioning itself as the energy source of choice in the American public's mind.
And where do consumers go for information on energy? Well, it's not corporate websites or environmental advocacy websites, according to the survey respondents.
Boomers trust TV news for information while Millennials also opt for TV news, along with online news sites and social media -way more so than newspapers and magazines.

With more than half of those surveyed (57%) reporting that they hear about energy issues a few times a week, these results suggest energy companies across the spectrum need to be aware of how Americans want to consume their energy information. And they need to think about strategies that convey trust, stewardship and innovation. A one-size-fits-all approach simply no longer works for any segment of the energy industry.
There's more in our survey - from what solutions are best to how Americans make energy choices. We'll cover those in our next blog post.

Andy Beck is Executive Vice President of Makovsky's energy, manufacturing and sustainability practice, and general manager of Makovsky's Washington, D.C. office. Previously, Andy served as the Director of Public Affairs for the U.S. Department of Energy.

Andy Beck's picture

Thank Andy for the Post!

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Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Nov 8, 2018 12:29 pm GMT

please see:

Nearly 20% of US energy is indeed from renewables. The author of the article did not include hydro.

From the article: "Eighteen percent of all electricity in the United States was produced by renewable sources in 2017, including solar, wind, and hydroelectric dams. That’s up from 15% in 2016, with the shift driven by new solar and wind projects, the end of droughts in the West, and a dip in the share of natural gas generation. Meanwhile, both greenhouse gas emissions from power generation and consumer spending on power declined.

It is incredible that your EIA data leaves out hydro, though most of the recent increase in renewables is from solar and wind.

Please do not insult the American people!


Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 8, 2018 6:01 pm GMT

Mark, only by considering 15.8% renewables as being "nearly 20%" could one interpret's estimate, plus the 2% you added on top, an accurate figure. Andy's article was posted "November 10, 2016", however, and quotes an article published 15 months later - so who knows what it's referencing? Let's look at current EIA data for 2017, which shows the following:

7.3% hydroelectric (including losses from pumped storage)
6.3% wind
1.9% solar (small scale + utility)
.3% geothermal

15.8% of U.S. electricity, in 2017, came from renewable sources.

Though EIA graciously considers biomass (1.5%) "renewable", the fact is most comes from old-growth timber, not floor sweepings, not fallen branches retrieved by Greenpeace advocates. Thus: old-growth timber is only renewable on a time scale after which climate tipping points will be passed, when climate change will be irreversible.

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Nov 9, 2018 12:31 pm GMT

As I pointed out, the percentage was 18% in 2017. If you had looked at the article you would have also seen that "Solar and wind projects made up roughly 62% of new power construction in 2017, as their cost continues to plummet." and "And 2.9 gigawatts of new renewable energy projects were initiated last year, while 12.5 gigawatts worth of coal plants are set to shut down in 2018 – also part of an accelerating trend."

So, it is not unreasonable to estimate that today it is closer to 20%.

However, the main point is the irony of the claim by the author that Americans are misinformed, when the reality indicates that it is the author that is grossly misinformed!

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 9, 2018 4:35 pm GMT

Mark, after hearing unrealized promises from renewables evangelists for fifty years, you’ll have to excuse me if I relegate promises of “plummeting prices” and “accelerating trends” to the hyperbole bin:

• Given “new power construction” in 2017 was inconsequential, 62% of it is even more so

• 2.9 gigawatts of new wind capacity, at 30% capacity factor, will contribute one-tenth of one percent to total U.S. electricity generation

Thus, you might be excused for rounding 15.8% up to 15.9%. But rounding 15.8% up to the nearest 10% is unreasonable - especially, when millions of tons of emissions are at stake. Blind optimism for renewables, or any other form of clean energy, is no longer an option.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Nov 9, 2018 6:36 pm GMT

YTD-EIA in 2018

  • Wind generation - up 16% Y-Y
  • Solar PV generation - up 30% Y-Y
  • Hydro generation - down 5% Y-Y (2017 strong yr)
  • Coal generation - down 6% Y-Y 

Also important when looking at where things are going:

  • Coal capacity - down 13GW in last 12 months
  • CC NG plants - up 12 GW in last 12 months
  • Wind capacity - up 5GW in last 12 months
  • Solar capacity - up 8GW in last 12 months

Another 4-5GW of coal retirements scheduled before end of year. Coal retirements for future years are being announced monthly - expect at least 10GW/yr going forward. A large chunk of that coal generation will be replaced by new wind/solar. Some with CC Natural Gas.




Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Nov 9, 2018 7:50 pm GMT

Many thanks for those data Joe.  I certainly don´t know where all this is going in the longer run.  Maybe new generation nuclear and/or car fuel cells will turn out to be the best options, at least for some purposes.

And I thought horseless carriages would never be a reality.  Beats me.

I do think I know that standing still is not an option.


Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 13, 2018 12:59 am GMT

Joe, I realize you're excited solar has reached almost 2% of U.S. generation - but who cares? Do you really think veteran energy watchers are going to be impressed it's now almost one-fiftieth of U.S. generation, that they don't know 30% higher than "almost nothing" is still "almost nothing"? That both wind and solar generate a lot of energy is very select parts of the country, at the right of time of year - and almost none in others? That wherever solar is generating electricity it's raised the consumption of fossil fuel gas?


Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Nov 14, 2018 1:36 pm GMT


I agree that the solar growth rate could/should be higher than 30%.  The inertia shown by many utilities  in this country is tough to overcome. However, there are signs that more and more of these utilities are waking up - even in Indiana.

That said  - let's look at the numbers a different way. The 30% growth in solar this year means an additinal 23TWh of generation and the 16% growth in wind means an additional 41TWh of wind. Add those up and you get 64TWh of additional renewable generation.  Not bad.

Now let's look at coal. The 6% drop in coal this year means a 72TWh drop in coal generation for 2018 vs 2017.  If coal continues to drop at this rate it will be gone in 16 years.

That both wind and solar generate a lot of energy is very select parts of the country, at the right of time of year - and almost none in others?

This is not what the data shows. Solar is taking off in FL and TX  and in much of the SouthEast. Enormous potential for solar in these regions. TX will eventually have more solar generation than CA.

Let's look at at a couple of other regions - Mid Atlantic and New England. Solar in North Carolina is at 5.6% of generation YTD. Solar in MA is at 11.6% of generation YTD. Solar is even starting to make headway in the upper Midwest. Solar in MN is up 105% YTD and is at 2.3% of generation.

That wherever solar is generating electricity it's raised the consumption of fossil fuel gas?

Of course, in the Western US solar and wind are both great resources.  Continued growth of both solar and wind will eliminate most coal out West by 2030. In both NV and CA solar will drastically cut the amount of NG used for electricity generation.

NG generation has already begun to decline in both of these states.  Within a few years solar generation will have passed 20% and the decline of natural gas generation will continue. 


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