US Electricity Generation from Renewables Surpassed 20% in 2020

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February 25 (Renewables Now) — U.S. wind and solar power generation set new records in 2020. In fact, it was 16.7% higher in 2020 than in the year previous year, according to a SUN DAY campaign analysis of new data just released by the United States. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Similarly, annual electricity production from all renewable energy sources combined (i.e. biomass, geothermal, hydro, solar, wind) reached an all-time high last year. and supplied more than a fifth of the country’s electricity production.

The latest issue of the EIA’s “Electric Power Monthly” (with data through December 31, 2020) also reveals that solar-generated electricity – including distributed solar power (for example, on the roof) – grew by 24.1% (compared to 2019) and provided nearly 3.3% of the nation’s total. Wind power increased by 14.1% and represented 8.3% of total production. No other energy source has experienced such high growth rates.

During the year, electricity production from geothermal and hydro also increased – by 9.4% and 1.1% respectively, but that from biomass decreased by 2.5%. While total electricity generation in the United States from all sources has declined by 2.7% – due at least in part to the Covid-19 pandemic, electricity generation by the combination of renewables increased by more than 9.2%. Collectively, renewables provided 20.6% of the country’s total electricity production, up from 18.3% a year earlier. In fact, renewables slightly exceeded an EIA forecast, released just two weeks ago, that 20.0% of US electricity would come from green sources in 2020.*

For perspective, renewable sources accounted for 13.6% of electricity generation in the United States at the end of 2015 and only 10.4% at the end of 2010. Thus, renewables have doubled their share of the the country’s electricity production over the past decade.

Moreover, as predicted by the SUN DAY campaign a year ago, the share of renewables in US electricity production in 2020 eclipsed that of nuclear (19.5%) and coal (19.1%). Renewables generated 7.8% more electricity than coal through December 2020. In fact, electricity generation from coal was 19.8% lower than the previous year. In addition, renewable energy sources produced 5.6% more electricity than nuclear power, whose production fell by 2.4% over the same twelve-month period.

And in what seems like a harbinger of things to come, the increase in new electricity from wind and solar has outpaced the increase in electricity generation from natural gas. In other words, in 2020, solar and wind produced 67,365 GWh more than in 2019. In comparison, electricity production from natural gas only increased by 30,934 GWh. While it continued to provide the largest share (39.9%) of the country’s electricity generation, natural gas rose only 2.0% during the year. It fell by 8.6% in November and by 4.7% in December, compared to the corresponding months in 2019.

“With wind and solar costs continuing to decline and more supportive leadership now in Washington, D.C., the prospects for even stronger growth in 2021 and beyond look very promising,” noted the campaign’s executive director. SUN DAY, Ken Bossong. “Over the next five years, renewables will likely provide more than a quarter of the country’s electricity generation…and very likely more.”

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* In its latest “Short-Term Energy Outlook” report published on February 9, 2021, the EIA stated that “electricity production from renewable energy sources increases from 20% in 2020 to 21% in 2021 and to 23% in 2022”. See: https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/steo/report/electricity.php

NOTE: Unless otherwise noted, the electricity figures quoted above include the EIA’s “Small-Scale Solar PV Estimates” (e.g. rooftop solar systems) which represent nearly one third (31.5%) of total solar generation and just over five percent (5.0%) of total net electricity generation by renewable energy sources.

The latest issue of the EIA’s “Electric Power Monthly” was officially released on February 24, 2021.
For data cited in this update, see:

https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.php?t=table_es1a

https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.php?t=table_es1b

https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.php?t=table_1_01

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The SUN DAY Campaign is a nonprofit research and education organization founded in 1992 to aggressively promote 100% reliance on sustainable energy technologies as cost-effective alternatives to nuclear power and fossil fuels and as a strategy of combating climate change.

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