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The U.S. is consuming energy considerably more efficiently and with lower emissions than just five years ago, thanks to a slew of modern technologies that are changing decades-old patterns, finds a new report from research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance and industry group The Business Council for Sustainable Energy.

According to the report, titled "Sustainable Energy in America 2013 Factbook," natural gas and renewables have gained market share largely at the expense of conventional resources. Energy efficiency is also making a major impact, and as a result, energy demand has fallen steeply.

From 2007 to 2012, natural gas rose to 27.2% of total energy consumption (including electricity, heat and transportation) from 23.4%, while renewables, including wind, solar, biomass and hydropower, have jumped to 9.4% from 6.4%. Meanwhile, during the same period, coal declined to 18.1% from 22.5% and oil fell to 36.7% from 39.3%. The winner of all this is U.S. emissions, the report says. From 2007 to 2012, U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions declined 13%.

The Factbook highlights how energy efficiency is increasingly becoming a priority, particularly among large power consumers, such as manufacturers, who are being ever more cost-conscious. U.S. utility budgets for efficiency expenditures reached $7 billion in 2011 (the latest available date for which data exists), and financing for energy efficiency retrofits has become increasingly sophisticated, propelling further greening of U.S. buildings, the report adds. Since 1980, energy intensity of commercial buildings has fallen by more than 40%. Overall, energy demand decreased by 6.4% from 2007 to 2012, largely due to efficiency gains and despite economic growth.

Renewable energy sources are being built quickly, while renewable energy production costs are plummeting, the report continues. The total installed renewable capacity has more than doubled in the five years between 2008 and 2012. The cost of electricity generated by average large solar power plants has fallen from $0.30/kWh in 2009 to $0.14/kWh in 2012 (excluding the effect of tax credits and other incentives, which would bring those costs down even lower, the report explains). Over the same period, the cost of power from a typical large wind farm has decreased from $0.09/kWh in 2009 to $0.08/kWh.

Evolution of the transport sector mirrors that of power, prompted by advances in technology and new fuel economy requirements. In fact, sales for hybrids and plug-in vehicles reached 488,000 units in 2012.

“These new energy technologies, which some still claim aren’t ready for prime time, are already making a major impact on U.S. energy,” says Ethan Zindler, head of policy analysis at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “And the U.S. has only begun to receive the full benefit of lower prices for clean energy equipment.”


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