The goal is 25% renewable energy by 2025 but we need to start off by asking the question: "25% of what?" According to the OEP, the "what" is net energy usage. Net energy use refers to the energy we use in-state and excludes that associated with any energy exports. In our case, we export 51% of our produced electricity, so we need to subtract the energy used to produce this exported electricity from the gross, or overall, energy usage by NH to generate the net energy number.
All my blog posts and previous calculations, to this point, have referred to overall energy use by New Hampshire, so for net energy usage we need to reduce the 409 trillion BTU overall usage by the 113 trillion BTU used to produce exported electricity, leaving us with a new number: 296 trillion BTU. This is our net energy usage for New Hampshire for 2010 and will be the basis for the calculations and discussion for the next few blogs.
With the net in-state energy usage in hand and using the renewable energy numbers from previous blogs, we should be ready to calculate the percentage of renewable energy. Ah, if only it were so straightforward. Instead, we now face an intriguing dilemma: this revolves around how we look at that exported energy (electricity exports plus the energy waste associated with its production). The electricity produced in NH comes from renewable and non-renewable sources and even though the electrons involved in electricity flow from these sources are indistinguishable, we can view our produced electricity as a blend of green electrons (those from renewable energy) and brown electrons (those from fossil fuels and nuclear). So, when we export electricity are we exporting just brown electrons or a blend of green and brown electrons? As I have noted the electrons are indistinguishable, so we are, in essence, just playing an accounting game but this is an important game with important consequences. If we take the position that exported electricity is indeed a blend of green and brown electrons then we need a commensurate reduction in the amount of renewable energy we can claim for in-state use. Specifically: we export 51% of electricity production, so we need to reduce the renewable fraction that goes into electricity production by 51%. This significantly reduces the amount of renewable energy we can claim. On the other hand, if we take the position that we use all the green electrons in-state, then we can claim all that renewable energy that goes into electricity production.
Which is the correct answer? Well, the OEP sidesteps the issue of the correct answer by calculating the percent of renewable energy data for both scenarios. In my calculations, I adopted that same convention by performing calculations for both scenarios as well. The results of my calculations for 2010 are shown in the following table. I have used headings and formats similar to the OEP results to make for direct comparison. However, it should be noted that my methodology is a little different from that of the OEP as I have used the NH data and energy accounting approach from the Energy Information Agency, EIA, exclusively and I do not include imported electricity in accounting for renewables - even though it might be from hydroelectric operations in Canada.
At first glance, the results are not encouraging. Even if we lay claim to all the green electrons for in-state use, Option 1, we are at 14.7% renewable energy with 13 years to go. The situation is even worse if we calculate on the basis that we are exporting a blend of green and brown electrons, Option 2. In this case, we are only at 9.1% renewable energy. However, this still begs the question – which is the correct number? Well, it depends on who is playing the game and making the rules. Nevertheless, my vote is for the higher number, the one comes from grabbing all of the green electrons for ourselves. The basis of my choice that the calculation is simpler to perform, and this is an extraordinarily complex scientific reason - it is a larger number - which makes the 25% easier to achieve!
Feeling somewhat gloomy about where we presently stand, I wanted to see if we were, in fact, making progress since the 2007 start of the 25 x '25 initiative. If we were - and it was rapid progress – it would certainly be encouraging. I therefore went back a few years to calculate the percent renewable data for both options which I have presented in the chart below. I have included the earlier OEP numbers (shown as red X's) in the chart below and even though, as noted earlier, my methodology is somewhat different from that of the OEP, the agreement between the two data sets is good.
Since the start of the initiative in 2007, we have, using Option 1, gone from about 12% to almost 15% renewable energy which is commendable progress over the past 3 years. (With Option 2, we have only gone from 7.5 to 9.1% which is not as commendable and therefore, for the "complex" scientific reasons noted above, we will ignore it going forward.) At this rate – about a 1% increase per year – reaching 25% by 2025 looks achievable, which is rather encouraging. However, while we are basking in the warm glow of our collective achievement, let's take a closer look at the two sets of data that generated this chart. Specifically, let's examine net energy usage and renewable energy production in NH separately, which I have done in the bar chart below.
A closer review of this data reveals that most of the change in the renewable energy fraction has occurred as a result of the reduction in the in-state energy consumption over the past few years. We have gone from 325 trillion BTU in 2005 to 295 trillion BTU in 2010 – an impressive 9% decrease in 5 years (an annual compounded decrease of 1.9%) but, and this is rather crucial, an examination of the renewable data shows that there has been little change in the amount of renewable energy we produce in-state. As a result, we need to conclude that our progress toward the 25% renewable energy goal to date has been on the back of energy savings - and not from increased renewable energy.
Going forward, can we continue to rely on further energy savings to get us to 25% and how realistic is this? It also requires us to ask the question – where are these energy savings coming from – are they the result of a general economic slowdown in the state accelerated by the Great Recession, high energy prices, a shrinking population, the success of energy savings programs, or some other reason? This is certainly worth closer examination and I would be interested in your opinion. For the moment, and for an energy savings geek such as myself, regardless of the reason these energy reductions are positive and are certainly propelling us towards our goal. But we should stop here and ask ourselves - are they sustainable? In my next post, I will look at how net energy usage is allocated in the state and what we need to do in terms of more energy savings and/or renewable energy increases to achieve the 25 x '25 goal. It might be more difficult than we think.
Until next time, remember to turn off those lights when you leave the room.
Franklin Pierce University