Economics, Energy and the Environment

Energy fact of the week: Oil and gas growth thump renewables

One of the oldest misleading statistical tricks is to cite percentage growth from a low base. For example, if the units of something produced go from 1 to 2, that’s 100 percent growth! But if you go from 100 units produced to 102 units produced—twice as much in absolute volume as the first example—the growth would only be 2 percent. But using only percentage growth figures, it appears the first example is growing much faster than the second example.

This is the way the renewable energy cheerleaders often pump up their story, citing “explosive” growth rates for wind and solar power. Figure 1 below shows the percentage growth rate of domestic production of oil, dry natural gas, and gas liquids and wind, solar, and biomass energy from 2008 – 2011, measuring in additional BTUs. Just going by percentages, it appears that renewables are growing more robustly than fossil fuels.

But Figure 2 shows the absolute growth, in BTU’s, of fossil fuels and renewables from 2008 to 2011, and here you can see that fossil fuel output has grown more than three times as much as renewables. It seems the “fuels of the past,” as Obama calls them, are clobbering the fuels of the future.

Figure 1: Percentage Growth in US Domestic Fossil Fuel and Renewable Energy Production, 2008 – 2011 (BTUs)

Figure 2: Absolute Growth U.S Domestic Fossil Fuel and Renewable Energy Production, 2008 – 2011 (BTUs)

Source: Energy Information Administration.

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