Statistics Speak Volumes

Statistics are only as good as the data collected, and statisticians may and do manipulate data and interpret that information in favor of a bias. Take that to the bank!

In the world of solar energy, the bias for “selling the solar energy concept” belongs to the promoters. And who are the promoters?  They are, to name a few, the manufacturers of solar panels, renewable energy stock traders, environmental groups, and many government agencies. Who better to get data from than those who promote and report renewable energy trends?

In a BP Statistical Review of World Energy, worldwide energy consumption data by country was published in June 2011 for the Years 2009 and 2010 (BP Solar manufactures solar panels). According to BP, oil and natural gas were the most consumed worldwide energy resources in 2010, and non-hydroelectric renewable resources were the least—about 1.3 percent. 1  According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the largest portion of worldwide renewable energy is biomass (e.g., wood and waste) and wind. The 2008 statistical report indicated non-hydroelectric renewable resources were 1.2 percent of total energy, and the solar energy stats were less than 0.018 percent of all energy resources.  Out of the abyss, solar energy has a steep climb!

Keep in mind, renewable energy statistics are all forms of energy, not just electricity, and solar power is only a small portion of the non-hydroelectric renewables.  

Despite the world solar energy consumption data collected and reported by solid sources, the EurObserv’ER, supported by the Environmental Defense Fund, claims: 

Solar power, whose output volume increased year-on-year by 56.4%, must take credit as the most outstanding renewable sector in 2010. Worldwide solar power production leapt to 33.2 TWh in 2010, which is 12 TWh more than in 2009.

What! Are they crazy? World production increased from 0.018 percent to 0.028 percent, the EurObserv’ER claims this is “most outstanding renewable sector.” Is this not verbal manipulation of the facts?  A false premise perpetrated upon the innocent?

Now, let’s look at an energy usage breakdown of major economic world powers—published in the BP Statistical Review.1 China generates more power than any country in the world, and their principal energy source is coal (75 percent of all energy consumed).  China has been heralded as a principal actor in the arena of solar power and other renewables. Yet, they are the least productive country in terms of renewable energy—0.5 percent (12.1 M tonnes of oil equivalent).  I dare say, “The reputation China has for solar energy is not in its use of solar energy but in manufacturing of solar panels.” The largest producer of solar panels internationally is Suntech which is a China-owned company.  Four of the top ten manufacturers are China-owned, and their solar panels are undercutting market prices worldwide.  So, case-in-point, the Chinese are manufacturing solar panels for other countries and apparently not using that which they promote.

According to the BP Statistical Review, the United States generates/uses 1.7 percent (39.12 M tonnes of oil equivalent) non-hydroelectric renewable energy—three times that which is used by China. And the European Union generates/uses 3.8 percent (66.9 M tonnes of oil equivalent) non-hydroelectric renewable energy, 8.6 percent of all renewables. Actually, truth be known, the European Union is the greatest generator/user of non-hyroelectric renewables in the world. Yet, there is an irony in these statistics.

The European Union has set a 2020 Target of 20 percent renewable sources in gross consumption of energy (e.g., transportation oil and electricity). Is this goal attainable?

The European Commission published slightly different numbers from that of the BP report for 2009.  Whereas BP published 7.9 percent renewable energy in the EU, the European Commission published 11.6 percent.  It is not clear as to the rationale for the discrepancy, but the 2020 Renewable Energy EU Target is based on the European Commission values. So, let’s say the European Commission data is the gold standard for the European Union.  Now, the 20 percent Target is based on an average contribution. In other words, all countries within the EU are not equal.

By 2020, Luxembourg must attain 11 percent renewable energy, and Sweden must attain 49 percent.  In 2009, Luxemburg was producing/using 2.5 percent solar energy, and Sweden was producing/using only 0.1 percent solar energy.  Yet, Sweden has already attained the 2020 EU Target for Renewables through existing biomass and hydropower plants.

The 2009 United Kingdom production/use of renewables was 2.9 percent, mostly biomass and waste, and their 2020 Target has been reduced from 30 percent to 15 percent. Even at this level, attainment by the UK will be challenging.

According to the BP Statistical Review1, in 2010, Germany, a principal producer/user, was using 3.5 percent of their renewable energy was solar, and the German company Solarworld is one of the top ten manufactures of solar panels in the world. Using the 2009 total renewable data, the actual production/use of solar power in Germany was 0.34 percent of the total energy produced.

Spain, touted for green with solar power, produces/used 0.74 percent of the total energy produced was solar. In France, 0.37 percent of the total energy was solar. Greece produced/used 0.82 percent solar energy, and the country is close to bankruptcy.  Greece’s 18 percent 2020 Target is not likely to be met, and when it is not met, there will be fines—a burden they could hardly afford at this time. But let me not digress—solar power is far from “saving Europe” while promoters claim solar salvation.

Last but not least, the United States has its own set of statistics. Let’s look at progress from the Year 2005 to 2010.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, total “electricity” production in 2005 only increased by 1 percent (4,055 billion kWh in 2005 to 4120 billion kWh in 2010).[i] Solar power generated 0.015 percent of U.S. electricity requirements in 2005 and 0.03 percent in 2010. Although production doubled in a five year time period, solar power generation is still below 0.05 percent of the total electricity required.    

 According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, California is the largest generator of solar energy in the United States.  In 2010, solar power production was 0.38 percent of California’s total electricity requirements. Although there has been a 23 percent increase in energy consumption, the 2010 solar energy production reflects an increase of 72 percent over that reported in 1990. The actual production was 366,668 MWh in 1990, doubled to 769,331 MWh in 2020.  Still, no matter what way you crunch the numbers, a 72 percent increase or doubling down in 20 years on less than 0.5 percent electricity production is hardly reason for celebration.  As the limelight dims, California imports more electricity from other States than any other state.

Other U.S. States that produce/use solar energy as of 2010 are Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, and Texas. These states only recently added solar energy to the grid.  The data reflect no solar energy production in 2005 for any of these States.  The presently supply 0.014, 0.6, 0.08, and 0.002 percent solar electricity to the grid. Although Nevada statistically is producing more solar energy—in terms of percent—to total electricity (e.g., 0.6 percent) than California (e.g., 0.38 percent) is producing, the reality is Nevada is producing 1/3rd that of California—in terms of Megawatt-hours.   

Mismanagement of information and biased reporting culminates in orchestrated perceptions. Perception becomes reality albeit a misguided reality. Herein the full picture is full blown panoramic view. Now, it is up to the read to draw his/her own conclusion.


[i] U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States. Table 945. Electricity Net Generation by Sector and Fuel Type: 1990 to 2010 (2012).