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America’s clean power states

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Kent Knutson's picture
Energy Market Specialist Hitachi Energy USA Inc.

Kent Knutson is a market specialist focusing on energy industry intelligence for Hitachi Energy.  He has more than 30 years of experience designing and developing intelligence products for some...

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  • Dec 9, 2020

During 2019, for the first time, wind power surpassed hydroelectric power as the second most prolific carbon-free electricity resource in the United States. Nuclear is still the number one carbon-free power resource, even though the US has only commissioned three reactors over the past 30 years. Most of the hydropower production contributing to zero-carbon power portfolios is from large projects that the federal government built more than 50 years ago. Most of the wind and solar capacity operating across the country is under ten years of age. Nuclear accounted for 55.5% (809.4 million MWh), while wind (20.2%/294.8), hydropower (19.4%/282.6), and solar (4.9%/71.7) represents the remainder of carbon-free power production in the US. Overall, carbon-free resources produced 35.2% of electricity production in the country. Fossil fuels contributed 62.4%, and other renewables, like biomass and open-loop geothermal resources, accounted for about 2.3% of total power production. 

States producing the most carbon-free power

Texas ranks first in carbon-free power production (130.6 million MWh), with wind accounting for 64% of that output. Illinois produced the second-highest volume of carbon-free power (114.2), with nuclear accounting for 86.5% of the output. California produced the third-highest volume (96.5) with a balanced portfolio including hydropower (38.3), solar (28.3), nuclear (16.2), and wind (14.5) making up the state’s total electricity production. California is followed by Pennsylvania, Washington, New York, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, and Tennessee, all supported by large contributions from nuclear and hydropower.

States with the highest volume of electricity production in 2019, coming from zero-carbon resources, MWh

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States producing the highest percentage of electricity from carbon-free power

Nearly all (81.2%) of Vermont’s power generation is carbon-free, with hydro, wind, and solar providing 1.8 million MWh of the state’s total output (2.4). Most of the rest of Vermont’s power comes from wood-solids biomass plants. Vermont produces the smallest amount of electricity of any US state. Washington is ranked second with 76.7% of the state’s electricity from carbon-free energy sources – primarily federal and public hydro projects representing nearly 81% (66 million MWh) of all carbon-free power across the state. South Dakota ranks third with 73.8% from carbon-free resources – hydro (7.9) and wind (6.7) make up most of the state’s portfolio. Idaho (73.1%) and New Hampshire (71.2%) rank fourth and fifth in carbon-free electricity production. 

States with the highest percentage of total electricity production in 2019, coming from zero-carbon resources

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Two relatively large power generating states, Illinois (61.2%) and New York (60.9%), rank sixth and seventh, with nuclear, hydropower, and wind making up each state’s carbon-free power portfolio. Rounding out the top ten states in terms of carbon-free power as a percentage of their overall power production are Oregon (60.4%), Kansas (59.8%), and South Carolina (59%).

Most of the states with high carbon-free power portfolios have relatively large fleets of older nuclear reactors and hydropower facilities. Wind and utility-scale solar farms dominate the renewable energy boom of recent years. 

States producing the highest volume from wind and solar resources

Texas is by far the leading state in combined wind and solar power generation. In 2019, wind and utility-scale solar farms generated 87.8 million MWh, with wind accounting for more than 95% of the power output. California is the second leading state with 42.0 million MWh generated, with solar and wind contributing 67.3% and 32.7%, respectively. The high wind states of Oklahoma (29.1 million MWh), Iowa (25.3), Kansas (21.1), Illinois (14.5), Minnesota (12.2), Colorado (12.1), North Dakota (11.2), and New Mexico (8.3) round out the top 10 in producing the highest volume of wind and solar electricity.

States with the highest volume of electricity production in 2019, coming from wind & solar resources, MWh

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States producing the highest percentage of electricity from wind and solar resources

Iowa leads the U.S. in the percentage of total electricity production from wind and solar resources. In 2019, wind and solar farms generated more than 41.6% of all power produced in the state – wind accounted for virtually all (99.9%) of the power output. Kansas followed closely behind Iowa, with 41.5% of all power coming from wind and solar. Like Iowa, most of Kansas’s contribution came from recently commissioned wind farms. Oklahoma (34.1%), North Dakota (27.3%), Maine (23.8%), New Mexico (23.5%), Vermont (23.2%), Colorado (21.4%), California (20.8%), and Minnesota (20.6%) round out the top 10 states, with California representing the largest contributor, and the only state, with a significant utility-scale solar contribution (28.3 million MWh) in 2019.

States with the highest percentage of total electricity production in 2019, coming from wind & solar resources

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Driven by public policy and corporate goals to rapidly reduce the power production carbon footprint, most of the US’s planned capacity additions are slated for wind and solar. Nuclear and large-scale hydropower facilities are aging but are still large contributors of carbon-free power across the country. With several nuclear plants slated for closure, that leaves the buildout of significant levels of additional wind and solar capacity as the only viable solution for increasing carbon-free power production in the years to come. To move the needle from 35.2% to a much higher carbon-free percentage, it’ll take continued commitment to all carbon-free resources but particularly to the continued rapid development of wind and utility-scale solar.

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