Renewable energy use in the U.S. dropped sharply in 2001, according to a new report by the Department of Energy. Much of that decline stems from a drought that cut hydroelectric power generation by 23 percent, but the DOE’s Energy Information Administration also found that in 2001, solar equipment was retired faster than it was replaced. The bulk of U.S. solar energy projects were started during the early 1980s, when oil prices skyrocketed due to conflict with Iran. The solar equipment from that boom is now wearing out, and there’s no sign of a national rush to replace it. There are some bright spots — for instance, the number of solar collectors, which gather the sun’s heat for uses such as warming swimming pools, increased by 34 percent last year — but the total amount of solar energy collected in the U.S. has fallen for three years in a row. Overall, the use of renewable fuel sources, including sun, wind, biomass, and hydroelectric, fell by 12 percent to its lowest level in more than 12 years; such fuel sources accounted for just 6 percent of the energy consumed in the country last year.