Some well-respected publications have recently criticised efforts in the U.S. to grow renewable energy alternatives. Megan McArdle, a senior editor for The Atlantic, observes in a July/August article “the 14 Biggest Ideas of the Year” that in 2010 “we now generate less electricy from renewables than we did in 1997.” I cannot tell for certain, but it appears that this may be by a percentage measure and not raw output numbers. One reason for this is the fairly dramatic drop in hydroelectic power generation. The rise in wind and solar power has not made up for the difference.
The August, 2011 Scientific American has an article by David Biello, entitled “The False Promise of Biofuels.” Turning to ethanol, the author notes that even if the entire corn crop of 2009 was used to make ethanol, it would only replace 18% of the nation’s gasoline consumption. The article goes on to quote J. Craig Venter, co-founder of Synthetic Genomics, who states that to replace all U.S. transportation fuels with ethanol would require a farm three times the size of the continental U.S.
Replacing fossil fuels with alternative energy sources is still a long way off. Incremental improvements in efficiency, transmission, and production will only put a slight dent in our reliance on foreign oil.