Renewables Are on Track to Surpass 20 Percent of U.S. Electricity Coming from Green Sources in 2020

Notwithstanding the COVID-19 pandemic, electrical generation by the nation’s utility-scale wind and solar plants continues to set new records. In fact, it was 35.1 percent greater in November 2020 than it was in the same month a year earlier, according to a SUN DAY Campaign analysis of new data released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The latest issue of EIA’s “Electric Power Monthly” (with data through Nov. 30, 2020) also reveals that, year-to-date, solar-generated electricity, including distributed (rooftop) solar, expanded by 22.5 percent (compared to the same period in 2019) and provided almost 3.4 percent of the nation’s total. Wind grew by 13.8 percent and accounted for 8.2 percent of total generation. Combined, electrical generation by wind and solar grew by 16.2 percent in 2020. No other energy sources experienced similarly high growth rates.

From January through November, electrical generation by geothermal energy and hydropower also increased by 8.0 percent and 0.8 percent, respectively—while that from biomass fell by 2.5 percent. The electrical output by all renewables increased by 8.8 percent and provided 20.7 percent of the country’s total electrical output, up from 18.4 percent a year earlier. Thus, renewables are now on track to surpass EIA’s recent forecast of 20.0 percent of U.S. electricity coming from green sources in 2020.*

Moreover, as predicted by the SUN DAY Campaign a year ago, renewables’ share of U.S. electrical generation has eclipsed that of nuclear power (19.4 percent) and coal (18.8 percent). Renewables produced 10.1 percent more electricity than coal through November 2020. In fact, electrical generation by coal was 22.1 percent lower than a year earlier. In addition, renewable energy sources produced 6.2 percent more electricity than did nuclear power whose output fell 2.2 percent during the same 11-month period.

And in what may prove to be a harbinger of things to come, the increase in new electricity from wind and solar was greater than the increase in electrical generation by natural gas. That is, during the first 11 months of 2020, solar and wind produced 59,859 gigawatt-hours (GWh) more than they did during the same period in 2019. By comparison, electrical generation by natural gas increased by only 35,874 GWh. While it continued to provide the largest share (40.2 percent) of the nation’s electrical output, natural gas grew by only 2.5 percent during the first 11 months of 2020 and actually dropped by 8.6 percent in the month of November.

“With a far more supportive Biden administration now directing national energy policy, renewably-generated electricity seems poised for rapid growth,” notes the SUN DAY Campaign’s Executive Director Ken Bossong. “While EIA foresees renewables providing 23 percent of U.S. electricity in 2022, the actual percentage could very well be significantly higher—perhaps 25 percent or more.”

*In its most recent “Short-Term Energy Outlook” report issued on Jan. 12, 2021, EIA said it “expects the share of generation from renewable sources will [be] 20 percent in 2020 [and increase] to 21 percent in 2021 and to 23 percent in 2022.”

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