Energy Evolutions: Tracing Data through the Decades

By Dan Bilello, Director of NREL’s Strategic Energy Analysis Center

Our researchers in the Strategic Energy Analysis Center at the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) spend a great deal of time with data — especially when it comes to the evolving energy industry.

A remarkable energy transition has taken place over the past few decades, which our analysts have tracked every step of the way. Renewable energy installations tripled nationally and globally between 2000 and 2008. Over the first 12 years of the century, there has been a sixteen-fold increase in worldwide wind electricity generation. And, between 2000 and 2013, solar electricity technologies rapidly expanded as global solar electricity generation increased by a factor of 68.

Long-term data trends like these reveal a lot to anyone who interacts with energy daily — and that includes all of us, from data scientists to industry stakeholders to homeowners and consumers. Across a decade or more, you can see as trends begin to take shape within innovation and investment. Comparing and understanding annual data is essential for us all to scientifically, economically, and personally prepare for the energy developments of tomorrow.

Published annually by NREL analysts on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, our flagship Data Book series informs energy stakeholders in instrumental ways. With comprehensive compilations of U.S. and international energy information, each annual installment adds a new chapter in our progressing knowledge of energy trends.

Returning Trends, Initial Observations

It’s the eleventh year of the Renewable Energy Data Book, but our is full of firsts. Namely, in 2018, U.S. renewable capacity surpassed 20% for the first time. It also notes that annual U.S. electric vehicle sales surpassed 1 million for the first time, marking a 49% increase from 2017.

But positive trends rarely exist independently — and data enthusiasts like myself are always eager to understand why. Our 2018 analysis also revealed a slight decline in the percentage of total renewably sourced electricity generation in the United States from 2017 to 2018. Our analysts surmise this dip to be associated with two factors: a decrease in annual hydropower generation and substantial increase in generation from natural gas resources.

The two most recent versions of the Renewable Energy Data Book apply analysis to new topics, a reflection of growing trends across the energy landscape. While including returning categories of renewable electricity generation, renewable energy development, clean energy investments, and technology-specific data, the 2017 and 2018 versions also analyze data in electric vehicle and energy storage technology trends.

Publicly available and highly visual, our 2018 installation joins the collection of past Data Books in NREL’s library. With state-, region-, and nation-specific data, the analysis provides unique insights that anyone — from government to academia to interested public — can understand and apply.

Understanding Grid Integration through Data

While our analysts have contributed to the Renewable Energy Data Book for the last 11 years, this year we produced two additional Data Books to inform different sectors with tailored takeaways. Joining our flagship Renewable Energy Data Book are the brand-new 2018 Industrial Energy Data Book and 2018 Grid Integration Energy Data Book.

The latter, in its second installation, biennially reviews changes to the operation and composition of the U.S. power system. Tracking growth in variable renewable energy (VRE) sources as they increase shares of electricity supply, the highlights progress, challenges, and trends in VRE integration onto the grid.

The Grid Integration Data Book provides region-by-region comparisons, scoping out how trends in VRE penetration, utility-scale wind, and solar generation forecast errors, photovoltaic curtailment, and locational marginal prices vary across the national map.

Among key trends are coast-to-coast evaluations of VRE integration. This year’s Data Book shows that California’s installed solar photovoltaic capacity was over double all the other markets combined — exemplifying the need for unique and relative analysis as renewable integration continues to climb.

Informing Industry in New Ways

NREL’s latest batch of Data Book publications also introduces a new analysis focus: industry. Covering the four fundamental sectors of industrial energy usage — agriculture, construction, manufacturing, and mining — the synthesizes metrics from 2016 to 2018.

In the book, you’ll find trends in energy prices, energy use, economic activity, and water use within these sectors, comparing figures across industry and region. This analysis taps into industry as the largest, yet least extensively quantified, energy end-use sector — providing the first-ever data compilation of this type and scale to industrial energy experts and any interested stakeholders.

Penning the Next Chapter of Energy Analysis

With all three 2018 Data Books now publicly available, NREL’s is already gearing up for next year’s installments. Ensuring relevant, uniquely robust data year after year requires a steady stream of collection and analysis. To that end, our analysts are actively working on ways to automate elements of the process so we can deliver insights sooner. This means you can stay on top of energy trends as they’re happening.

Access our full collection of free for energy analysis, including financial and economic models, system and technology performance tools, and geospatial energy data.



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