Appendix B
Renewable Data Limitations

This appendix provides information about the quality of renewable energy consumption data presented in Section I of this report. Information pertinent to renewable energy source data quality, in general, is presented, followed by fuel-specific information.

Obtaining complete information on renewable energy projects poses special challenges due to their nature. One challenge is the dispersed nature of many renewable energy forms, such as a photovoltaic (PV) system for generating electricity that may operate in a “standalone” fashion in a remote location. If the facility is not connected to an electricity grid, there is no Federal regulatory requirement to report its operating information. Tracking down hundreds or thousands of such facilities, each with a small power output, can be extremely challenging.

Another challenge involves tracking renewable energy supplies. Conventional energy supplies, such as petroleum, are easily tracked because the distribution networks (usually pipelines) are limited and well-defined. This permits one to make reasonable assumptions about fuel consumption, assuming stocks can be reasonably estimated [252]. The same cannot be said for many renewable energy supplies. Often, a large number of energy consumers must be surveyed in order to make reasonable inferences about renewable energy consumption. Wood, for example, is gathered by tens of thousands of entities for fuel uses not reportable for regulatory purposes. Thus, obtaining accurate data on wood energy consumption would entail conducting large consumption surveys.

Finally, some renewable energy sources are byproducts (such as pulping liquor) of non-energy processes. To track such uses, information must be solicited from respondents not generally considered to be in the energy supply chain.

Electricity [253]

As noted in Chapter 1, 66 percent of renewable energy consumption measured by EIA is used to produce electric power. It is therefore important to examine the coverage quality of EIA renewable electricity data. EIA renewable electricity generation is derived from two principal sources: Form EIA-759, “Monthly Power Plant Report,” and Form EIA-867, “Annual Nonutility Power Producer Report.” Form EIA-759 is sent to all utilities, while the EIA-867 is required of all other facilities exceeding 1 megawatt capacity. (This includes facilities which meet Federal Energy Regulatory Commission [FERC] standards as a “qualifying facility” [QF], as well as independent power producers [IPPs]). Therefore, off-grid electric applications are not captured here (although they may be covered in EIA’s Manufacturing Energy Consumption Survey [254]).

Because electric utilities are easily identified, seldom change business status, and have mandatory regulatory reporting requirements, complete coverage of utility-generated electricity is virtually assured. In contrast, nonutilities (i.e., QFs and IPPs) are required only to file regulatory reports at the time of their intention to become a grid electricity-producing facility. Over time, QF ownerships and locations change frequently. These factors, combined with the large number of QF applications, make tracking these facilities difficult. Accordingly, EIA has developed a threshold below which nonutility units are not surveyed. Form EIA-867 is a mandatory survey of all existing and planned nonutility electric generating facilities in the United States with a total generator nameplate capacity of 1 megawatt or more. In 1992, the reporting threshold for Form EIA-867 was lowered to include all facilities with a combined nameplate capacity of 1 megawatt or more. Previously, data were collected every 3 years from facilities with a nameplate capacity between 1 and 5 megawatts. This has the effect of making the data prior to 1993 slightly less accurate.

Form EIA-867 coverage is particularly weak for facilities producing electricity from municipal solid waste (MSW). Accordingly, EIA uses information provided by Governmental Advisory Associates (GAA) reports, namely, the “Resource Recovery Yearbook” and “Methane Recovery Yearbook,” to develop its waste-generated electricity estimates.

An analysis of the Form EIA-867 universe indicates that the survey’s capacity undercoverage varies between 3 and 10 percent, depending on the fuel source (Table B1). Capacity and unit coverage are the most difficult for wind, where numerous small units exist. EIA has analyzed the differences between capacities reported for identical renewable units on Form EIA-867 and alternative sources. Capacity discrepancies were found to result from four factors:

Table B1. Evaluation of EIA's Undercoverage of Nonutility Electricity Data
Fuel Source Number of Facilitiesa Capacity
Biomass EIA-867b (<=1 MW) 471 14,090
“Electricity Discrepancy Estimates”c 759 15,037
Geothermal EIA-867 48 1,551
“Electricity Discrepancy Estimates” 57 1,590
Wind EIA-867 82 1,803
“Electricity Discrepancy Estimates” 739 1,992
Solar EIA-867 11 365
“Electricity Discrepancy Estimates” 152 374
Source: Energy Information Administration, Form EIA-867, “Annual Nonutility Power Producer Report.”
aExcludes some EIA-867 facilities that could not be matched with facilities contained in non-EIA data sources.
bBased upon the 1991 survey year. Excludes some EIA-867 facilities that could not be matched with facilities contained in non-EIA data sources. The 1991 EIA-867 survey did not indicate what nonutility facilities under 5 megawatts are renewable.
c“Renewable Energy Frame Review Updated Report: Survey Sampling Frame and Electricity Discrepancy Estimates,” by Decision Analysis Corporation of Virginia, August 2, 1993.

In a followup study of capacity discrepancies, the EIA-867 was over four times more likely to have the correct value than the alternative source, which covered units of all sizes.

EIA has attempted to compare GAA data on MSW with information used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, definitional differences make data quality evaluation difficult.

Non-Electric Renewable Energy Consumption


The primary application for renewable energy other than making electricity is creating heat, for industrial processes, buildings, or water. Most non-electric consumption data are gathered on two EIA consumption surveys: the Manufacturing Energy Consumption Survey (MECS), and the Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS). MECS is based on the U.S. Bureau of the Census’ Census of Manufacturing. As far as renewable energy is concerned, MECS provides consumption estimates of total industrial energy and various categories of biomass, including wood. RECS is based on an area probability sample of households selected by EIA. For renewable energy, it provides estimates of residential wood energy consumption.

There are two other non-electric applications for renewable energy: solar heating and alcohol transportation fuels. Solar energy for non-electric applications is derived from the EIA Solar Collector Manufacturing Survey, Form EIA-63A/B (formerly CE-63A/B). The survey does not collect energy “consumption,” but rather production statistics on various types of solar and photovoltaic energy units. EIA applies additional assumptions regarding their application to estimate the amount of heat energy derived from solar/PV panels installed. (See Chapter 5 for further discussion.) Alcohol fuel consumption information is provided by the Form EIA-819M, “Monthly Oxygenate Telephone Report.”


Wood is the principal component of biomass energy. Information on non-electric wood energy consumption is derived from the MECS and RECS surveys.

Although some questions about MECS coverage have been raised, no formal analysis of current data exists to support this concern. According to 1983 U.S. Forest Service statistics on wood harvested for fuelwood, the Pulp and Paper Industry subgroup of the Forest Products Industry group consumed only 42 percent of total sector wood energy, not including black liquor (a byproduct fuel). MECS surveys the smaller-populated Pulp and Paper Industry intensively but only randomly samples the larger-populated remainder of the Forest Products Industry. For a variety of reasons, it is difficult to trace wood energy supply to wood consumed for energy. RECS covers wood consumption only for the primary residence of those surveyed; thus, wood consumption by second homes is omitted. This causes residential wood energy consumption to be understated by about 5 percent.

Cross-checks of Form EIA-819M information on alcohol fuels with data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and the U.S. Department of Transportation have not revealed any major deficiencies in the Form EIA-819M data.


EIA does not collect data on non-electric applications of geothermal energy such as crop drying and groundwater heat pumps. A study prepared for the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Geothermal Division, indicates that direct uses of geothermal energy, expressed in electric equivalents, amounted to nearly 4.2 gigawatthours in 1993 (Table B2). Sixty percent of this energy was provided by geothermal heat pumps.

Table B2. Geothermal Energy Supplied for Major Direct Use Applications, 1993
Application Number of
Statesa Temperature
Range (C)
Annual Energy
Space & District Heatingb 123 6 26 to 166 169 386
Geothermal Heat Pumps c168,000 50 6 to 39 1,733 2,403
Greenhouses 38 8 37 to 110 81 197
Aquaculture 27 9 16 to 93 104 574
Resorts & Spas 190 14 24 to 93 71 446
Industrial 12 6 86 to 154 43 176
Total 2,242 4,181
Source: P.J. Lienau, J.W. Lund, K. Rafferty, and G. Culver, Reference Book on Geothermal Direct Use, (August 1994), p. 4.
aNumber of States where projects are located.
bDiffers from 1990 inventory (Lund, 1990) because Mammoth Lakes and Bridgeport geothermal district heating systems were not built; therefore, they are not included in the inventory.
cNumber of equivalent 3-ton geothermal heat pump units.

Wind, Solar and Photovoltaic

EIA does not collect information on direct energy uses of wind (e.g., water-pumping). No comprehensive source of such information is known.

The data collected on Forms EIA-63A and EIA-63B are subject to various limitations: (1) coverage (the list of respondents may not be complete or, on the other hand, there may be double counting); (2) nonresponse (some of those surveyed may not respond, or they may not provide all the information requested); and (3) adjustments (errors may be made in estimating values for missing data).

EIA collects solar data only on terrestrial systems; it does not collect data on satellite and military applications. The total value of U.S. photovoltaic shipments in 1995 was $118 million. Based on anecdotal information, shipments ranging from about $85 million to $100 million went for satellite applications. Military applications cannot be estimated due to classified information and budgetary accounting. These figures do not include possible inventories held by distributors, retailers, and installers.

The universe of respondents is a census of those U.S.-based companies involved in manufacturing and/or importing solar collectors and photovoltaic cells and modules. Care has been taken to establish the survey frames accurately. The frames of potential respondents are compiled from previous surveys and from information in the public domain. However, because the solar collector and photovoltaic cell and module industries are subject to sporadic entry and exit of manufacturers and importers, the frame may exclude some small companies that have recently entered or reentered the industry.

From 1991 through 1994, EIA received reports from all known potential respondents. During the 1990 Form EIA-63B survey period, however, one photovoltaic manufacturer that was known to have shipped photovoltaic cells and modules during the first half of the year went out of business during the second half, and no data were acquired. For that company, 1990 shipments were estimated at one-half of the shipments reported for 1989.

During 1986, the solar thermal collector manufacturing industry experienced a substantial slowdown in shipments as a result of lower conventional energy prices and the expiration of the solar tax credit at the end of 1985. Reported shipments declined from 16.4 million square feet in 1984 to 4.9 million square feet in 1986. Many of the 1986 shipments probably occurred during the first quarter, as customers took delivery of materials purchased in late 1985, when solar tax credits were still available. Although reported shipments in 1985 were only 68 percent of those reported in 1984, it is likely that actual shipments were higher in 1985, which was believed to be a banner year because of the impending expiration of the energy tax credit. The number of companies reporting 1985 shipments and, therefore, the reported shipments may have been low because many of the companies had gone out of business by the time the survey was conducted (in early 1987) and could not be located.

Renewable Energy Annual 1996
April 1997
[Click on any entry to go there.]

Front Matter
1. Renewable Data Overview
2. Biomass Profile: Wood and Ethanol
3. Municipal Solid Waste Profile
4. Geothermal Energy Profile
5. Wind Energy Profile
6. Solar Industry Profile
7. The Role of Electric Utilities in the Photovoltaics Industry
8. Public Policy Affecting the Waste-to-Energy Industry
9. Flow Control and the Interstate Movement of Waste: Post-Carbone
10. Growth of the Landfill Gas Industry
11. Management of Known Geothermal Resource Areas
12. International Renewable Energy
Appendix A. EIA Renewable Energy Data Sources
Appendix B. Renewable Data Limitations
Appendix C. Geothermal Energy and Geysers
Appendix D. Environmental Impacts of Geothermal Energy
Appendix E. Examples of Contract Arrangements at The Geysers
Appendix F. Additional Solar and Photovoltaic Tables
Appendix G. Moody’s Bond Ratings
Appendix H. LFG: Commercial Energy Recovery Case Studies
Appendix I. List of Internet Addresses: Renewable Energy Information by Resource
Appendix J. State Agencies That Provide Energy Information

File last modified: April 16, 1997

Mark Gielecki
Phone: (202) 426-1141
Fax: (202) 426-1280