Let the Data Tell the Future

By Kolby Hoagland | January 08, 2013

With the arrival of a new year, we are habitually compelled to analyze the past in order to gain a better understanding of what the coming year will bring. In this week’s Maps & Data Blog, we will look at historical trends in energy consumption with the aim of anticipating where the bioenergy industry is headed. Over all, American’s use of energy, particularly fossil energy, is decreasing. As the first graph below demonstrates, the trend in energy consumption from 1982 to 2000 shows Americans using greater amounts of fossil energy annually. Yet, the growth in fossil fuel consumption begins to plateau from 2000 to 2007, then begins a trend of decline from 2007 to 2011 (Graph 1). During this period where less fossil fuel is being consumed greater quantities of renewable energy, particularly biofuel, were replacing fossil sources to fulfill the country’s energy needs.  Biofuel consumption (fuel ethanol and biodiesel) had the greatest growth among bioenergy sources with an annual growth rate of 22% between 2001 and 2011 (Graph 2). Renewable electricity consumption has steadily since 2001, and growing faster since 2007 (Graph 3). Though the majority of the growth in renewable electricity comes from wind, the issue of intermittency  and the lack of cheap power storage technologies  bodes well for biomass power, which produces baseload power quite well. Furthermore, with the reelection of President Obama, emissions regulations will continue, thus making it costly for coal power plants to operate. If the past predicts the future the historical trends continue, biomass power and biofuels are looking towards a good year in 2013.