It can be tricky to resolve different tales that are told about which U.S. energy sources are growing or fading. But now we have hard numbers. Annual flowcharts from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory show that over the past decade, wind power has increased 396 percent and solar power is up 956 percent. Of course, a very small share can rise by many percentage points and still be small, but that traditional narrative about wind and solar is nearly over: together they now provide 3.48 quads (quadrillion BTU) of electricity—more than hydropower. The natural gas story is clearer, too: it has not surged “recently” but rather has grown steadily for 10 years, and this trend is the main cause of a continual decrease in coal consumption. If these trends persist, says A. J. Simon, Livermore's energy group leader, “we can expect our energy economy to continue to get cleaner.”
Editor’s Note: This article was revised after posting to correct the online version of the illustration. The labels for “Energy lost” and “Energy put to use” had been misplaced.
This article was originally published with the title "Cleaning Up" in Scientific American 321, 4, 80 (October 2019)
Jan Willem Tulp is an independent data experience designer from The Netherlands. He designs creative data visualizations for a wide variety of clients. You can find his work at http://tulpinteractive.com. Credit: Nick Higgins