Wind and Solar Output Sets New Record for March 2021

Electrical generation by wind and solar set a new record in March 2021 and accounted for 16.8 percent of total U.S. production. In fact, solar and wind’s output during the month was 34.3 percent greater than a year earlier, according to a SUN DAY Campaign analysis of new data just released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The latest issue of EIA’s “Electric Power Monthly” report (with data through March 31, 2021) also reveals that for the first quarter of 2021, solar (including distributed rooftop systems) and wind increased by 24.3 percent and 10.5 percent, respectively. Combined, they grew by 13.6 percent and accounted for more than one-eighth (12.8 percent) of U.S. electrical generation.

That growth more than compensated for reduced output by hydropower (down by 7.5 percent), biomass (down 3.6 percent), and geothermal (down 1.5 percent). Non-hydro renewable generation still increased by 11.2 percent during the first three months of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020. And generation by all renewables, including hydropower, grew by 4.4 percent compared to the previous year. Renewables’ share of the nation’s electrical generation for the first quarter was 21.6 percent—up from 21.2 percent a year earlier.

By comparison, electrical generation by natural gas during the quarter fell by 10.5 percent and by 14.8 percent in March alone—thereby further reducing its lead over renewables, as the SUN DAY Campaign had earlier forecast. Natural gas’ share of the nation’s electrical generation during the first quarter of 2020 was 39.2 percent. A year later, it had diminished to 34.3 percent while the renewables’ share has inched up.

In addition, electrical output by the nation’s nuclear reactors decreased by 2.8 percent during the quarter, enabling renewables to further expand their lead. Collectively, renewables outpaced nuclear power during both the first quarter of 2021 and the month of March alone by 8.7 percent and 26.2 percent, respectively.

On the other hand, coal made a strong come-back, growing 34.8 percent compared to the first quarter of 2020. Coal’s rebound may prove to be fleeting, though. Electrical generation by coal during the first quarter exceeded that of all renewable sources combined by 7.4 percent. However, by March, renewables had bounced back and eclipsed coal’s output for the month by 29.6 percent.

“The continued strong growth by wind and solar affirms that the Biden Administration’s clean energy goals are within reach,” notes the SUN DAY Campaign’s Executive Director Ken Bossong. “Renewables are now on track to provide at least a quarter of the nation’s electricity within five years and, with additional support, considerably more.”

NOTE: Unless otherwise indicated, the electricity figures cited above include EIA’s “estimated small-scale solar photovoltaic” (rooftop solar systems) which account for almost a third (31.2 percent) of total solar output and just a bit under 5 percent (4.5 percent) of total net electrical generation by renewable energy sources.

The latest issue of EIA’s “Electric Power Monthly” was officially posted late on May 25, 2021.
For the data cited in this news 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

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