In 2020, renewable energy sources (including solar, wind, hydroelectric, biomass, and geothermal energy) generated a record 834 billion kWh of electricity, or about 21% of all the electricity generated in the United States. Only natural gas (1,617 billion kWh) produced more electricity than renewables in the United States in 2020, according to the Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration (EIA). To learn more, read “Renewables generated a record amount of electricity in 2020, EIA says.”
- Renewables surpassed both nuclear (790 billion kWh) and coal (774 billion kWh) for the first time. EIA said this outcome was due mostly to “significantly less coal use” in U.S. electricity generation and steadily increased use of solar and wind.
- U.S. electricity generation from coal in all sectors declined 20% from 2019, while renewables, including small-scale solar, increased 9%.
- Wind, currently the most prevalent source of renewable electricity in the United States, grew 14% in 2020 from 2019.
- Utility-scale solar generation (from projects greater than 1 MW) increased 26%, and small-scale solar, such as grid-connected rooftop solar panels, increased 19%.
- Renewables are again forecast to eclipse coal in 2022 as capacity grows and coal’s cost advantage eases.
Path to 100% Perspective:
Investing in renewable baseload is now viewed as buying ‘unlimited’ power upfront, as opposed to betting against fluctuating oil prices and narrowing environmental regulation. The early leaders of the renewable transition are now outperforming their counterparts in the fossil fuel sector. New capex is now surging in the power sector, driving the build-out of renewables at an unprecedented rate in areas of the world, such as Chile and New Mexico, that yield the highest renewable power capacity factors. Faced with the magnitude of the transition, some power producers have stopped investing – stopped progressing. Some are waiting to see if renewable technology costs fall even further as the sector transforms in front of their eyes. However, power producers that stall their investments risk being left with portfolios that rely on legacy technologies, which can only provide diminishing returns, while the low hanging fruit for solar and wind parks is progressively being capitalized by the first movers. Delaying the transition to renewables will reduce the competitiveness of power producers, as well as putting national climate targets out of reach.