Wind power recorded the highest energy gains in the US in 2012, while Americans have used less coal to generate electricity, according to a new report from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

The report states that apart from wind power, the use of natural gas and solar panels also increased in 2012.

LLNL energy systems analyst A.J. Simon said natural gas use has increased particularly in the electricity generation sector, where it has directly substituted coal, while sustained low natural gas prices have prompted a shift from coal to gas in the electricity-generating sector.

Simon also noted that the rise in renewables has been driven both by prices and government incentives to installers of equipment or renewable energy targets in various states.

According to the report, new wind farms using bigger, more efficient turbines helped drive production from 1.17 quadrillion British thermal unit (BTU) in 2011 to 1.36 quadrillion in 2012.

"The increase was in response to the US government-sponsored incentives to invest in renewable energy."

The increase was in response to the US government-sponsored incentives to invest in renewable energy.

Solar power generation jumped to 0.235 quadrillion in 2012, compared to 0.158 quadrillion in 2011 mainly due to declines in the prices of photovoltaic panels.

Use of both coal and oil dropped in 2012, but natural gas use increased from 24.9 quadrillion in 2011 to 26 quadrillion in 2012.

LLNL said this is the first year in at least a decade where there has been a measurable decrease in nuclear energy.

"It is likely to be a permanent cut as four nuclear reactors recently went offline (two units at San Onofre in California as well as the power stations at Kewaunee in Wisconsin and Crystal River in Florida)," Simon said.

"There are a couple of nuclear plants under construction, but they won’t come on for another few years."

Image: Rows of wind turbines line the hills east of the Livermore Lab. Photo: courtesy of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.