Why New Renewable Energy Records Don't Mean a Thing, Unless We Also Reduce Overall Demand

wind farm photo

photo: Chauncey Davis via flickr.

Remember how last week Spain was touting a new wind power record, more than 50% of demand for part of the day on a Sunday morning? A pretty great thing, right? Not really, says the folks over at Low-tech Magazine. Without actually reducing overall energy demand, just adding more renewable energy (and touting absurdist records like the top energy source for a three hour period in a day) won't get us anywhere. It's a good point:Wind Power Has Grown Strongly in Spain...
Low-tech points out that wind power in Spain has indeed grown an impressive 8000% from 1996-2007, going from 338 GWh to 27,509 GWh -- 0.2 to 9% of overall energy demand in that time period. (It's a bit higher now, by the way.)

But since during the same timed period overall energy demand in Spain (and the Netherlands, and US, which are also used as examples) also grew rapidly, we're really trying to hit a moving target.

But Fossil Fuel Use and Overall Demand is Also Growing...
Total electricity demand in Spain in 1996 was 174,246 GWh, climbing to 303,293 GWh in 2007 (nearly an 80% increase), with the share of fossil fuels going from 38% to 59%. So even though renewable energy growth looks significant in isolation, Spain's actually more dependent on fossil fuels now than it was thirteen years ago.

Lower Demand Not Just Green Supply
That's the gist of the argument, and it holds true pretty much everyplace in the world. Low-tech argues, and I have to agree, that unless we manage to actually lower absolute amount of fossil fuels burned, no stats parsing regarding renewable energy is going to matter much.

Imagine that the European Union or the US would decide that in 2020 we can only use as much energy (or electricity) as we do today. Interestingly, all other efforts suddenly make sense. If the share of renewable energy would rise, then the share of non-renewable energy would automatically fall. Energy efficient technology would be automatically transformed in energy savings, and not in extra applications or performance, as it happens now.

As always, and even if you don't agree with all the conclusions, Low-tech Magazine raises some important questions as is worth a read: How (Not) to Solve the Energy Crisis
Renewable Energy
Spanish Wind Power Supplies 50% of Demand Last Sunday Morning - #1 Electricity Source in November
Hierro: Spain's Completely Renewable Island
Energy Efficiency
Just How Many Trillions of Dollars Can Energy Efficiency Save Us?
Beating the Energy Efficiency Paradox (Part 1)

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