Where the U.S. Uses Renewable Energy

By Motley Fool Staff Markets Fool.com

A recent report from the Environmental Defense Fund's Climate Corps program found that the solar and wind industries are creating jobs 12 times fasterthan the rate of the broader U.S. economy -- which is huge.

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In this clip from Industry Focus: Energy, Fool energy analysts Sean O'Reilly and Taylor Muckerman put that number into context, and discuss how much new energy in the U.S. is coming from renewable sources, where in the U.S. we see the most green energy use, which surprising states are turning to green energy, and why renewables are booming lately.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This podcast was recorded on Feb. 2, 2017.

Sean O'Reilly: According to a new report from the Environmental Defense Fund's Climate Corps Program --

Taylor Muckerman: Say that one more time?

O'Reilly: Environmental Defense Fund's Climate Corps Programs. Say that five times fast.

Muckerman: No, that's all you.

O'Reilly: Environmental Defense Fund's Climate Corps Program. Environmental Defense Fund's Climate --

Muckerman: All right, what did they have to say?

O'Reilly: It was actually kind of cool. The solar and wind industries are apparently creating jobs at a rate 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy. That's actually kind of significant. It's not even off a small base. This is millions of jobs.

Muckerman: Yeah. It's up to, roughly, about 4.5 million jobs in the U.S., from 3.5 [million] in 2011.

O'Reilly: Yeah. And we have a population of 320 million, about a little over 100 million in the workforce this year. This is not small potatoes anymore.

Muckerman: Yeah, and if it continues growing near the 20% that it has been in recent years, we're going to see some very meaningful growth. These numbers are going to continue to grow.

O'Reilly: I have to learn how to install solar panels.

Muckerman: Something like that.

O'Reilly: But for this reason, this growth that we're seeing, I naturally started to wonder where -- this renewable-energy project, where is this usage common? You hear stories about how Las Vegas is all renewable now, Hawaii, you go to Hawaii and apparently solar is everywhere. So I started to wonder, where is this more common than not? Because here in Virginia, we have a lot of natural gas-fired plants; I'm from Ohio, I'm sure there's a coal fire plant there somewhere still --

Muckerman: Not a new one. Only about 0.17% of all new electric-generating capacity last year came from coal.

O'Reilly: Is that, like, a guy burning coal in his shed out back?

Muckerman: I think that's what that amounts to. 0.17%. Yeah. Only 45 megawatts.

O'Reilly: Wow. Anyway. We dove in and looked around the world and saw where it was pretty common, and we found a few surprises, and a few other places that were not so surprising. What do you think -- should we start with the U.S. and then the world, or vice versa?

Muckerman: America first!

O'Reilly: America first, all right, perfect. Let's break it down. What's going on in America?

Muckerman: You're seeing it crop up everywhere -- that's renewable, not just solar. When you look at all new energy capacity added last year in 2016, we're looking at about 26 gigawatts were added, and 61.5% came from biomass, waste, heat, solar, wind, or hydro. Nearly two-thirds. Another third came from natural gas, which, on the fossil-fuel side, is the cleanest of the three -- meaning oil, coal, or natural gas. So, arguably, what was that, 94.5% is generally clean, almost two-thirds is renewable. That's a pretty big move.

O'Reilly: I have to ask, because a lot of companies are starting to invest in this. You have the yieldcos, like 8point3 Energy Partners (NASDAQ: CAFD); you have SunEdison [yieldcos TerraForm Power and TerraForm Global].

Muckerman: MidAmerican Energy has one of the largest wind projects in Iowa, generating 301 megawatts.

O'Reilly: Owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway.

Muckerman: Name drop.

O'Reilly: I had to.

Muckerman: It's fine. He's in it. They're in it.

O'Reilly: Did you see that special, by the way?

Muckerman: I did not, but it has been talked about here at the Fool. What was it, PBS? HBO?

O'Reilly: It was HBO. It's mostly about his personal life.

Muckerman: OK. Just a lot of Diet Coke or actual Coke?

O'Reilly: And breakfast at McDonald'severy day.

Muckerman: Perfect. Living to be 100.

O'Reilly: We are not being compensated by HBO at all, to our listeners. We're talking about HBO's Becoming Warren Buffett, it aired on the 30th.

Muckerman: Oh, you didn't get a free subscription?

O'Reilly: No. I'm going to watch it this weekend. Actually, I probably will sign up for the free trial. Anyway, bottom line, I actually knew this stuff had a future when Buffett started investing in windmills. I was like, "Oh, this is actually economical," because he does not do things that are not going to make him money. We saw that one statistic about Alaska. What's up with those guys?

Muckerman: When you think Alaska, you think oil, generally. They have a lot of it; they're producing a lot of it. And Kodiaks, and stuff like that. But this is a state that, they basically give a paycheck to all their citizens from all the oil revenues that they make on an annual basis. And what they're seeing is, solar and wind is actually cheaper in a lot of places than oil and diesel, because you're looking at some places, the more remote areas of Alaska, they needed to use diesel, of all things, to generate electricity. We're looking at upwards of $0.60 per kilowatt-hour. Meanwhile, you're looking at some people that are generating energy from hydro and wind in the city of Kodiak, and you're looking at about $0.11 per hour. So a sixth of what they're paying on the diesel side. And that seems to be a theme. Texas, one of the fastest-growing renewable-energy-generating states in the country, traditionally all oil and natural gas when you think about it. Right on par with California, which produces its own share of natural gas, but not nearly what Texas is doing. So Alaska, Texas, seeing that renewable energy is finally at parity or below parity with fossil fuel electricity generation.

Sean O'Reilly has no position in any stocks mentioned. Taylor Muckerman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.