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Solar Power Triples & Wind Grows >65% During Past Five Years; Together, They Now Provide One-Eighth of U.S. Electricity.

Ken Bossong's picture
Executive Director SUN DAY Campaign

Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign since 1992

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  • Nov 30, 2021
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Driven by strong solar and wind power growth, electrical generation by renewable energy sources (i.e., also including biomass, geothermal, hydropower) accounted for 20.45% of total U.S. production during the first three-quarters of 2021, according to a SUN DAY Campaign analysis of new data released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

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The latest issue of EIA's "Electric Power Monthly" report (with data through September 30, 2021) also reveals that for the first nine months of 2021, solar (including distributed rooftop systems) and wind increased by 24.61% and 10.89% respectively compared to the same nine-month period in 2020. Combined, they grew by 15.00% and accounted for more than one-eighth (12.59%) of U.S. electrical generation (wind - 8.50%, solar - 4.09%). Moreover, wind and solar combined now provide more than three-fifths (61.55%) of the generation by renewable sources.

 

In addition, geothermal posted a gain of 2.75% while electricity generated by wood + other biomass increased by 1.71%. Combined, all non-hydro renewables grew by 12.8%.

 

Reflecting worsening drought conditions, though, hydropower fell by 12.47%. Nonetheless, all renewables combined - including hydropower - produced 4.05% more electricity than a year earlier. However, inasmuch as electricity generation by all sources increased by 3.26%, renewables' share of the total increased only slightly - from 20.30% in 2020 to 20.45% this year.

 

Renewable sources also expanded their lead over nuclear power, providing 10.72% more electricity than the nation's atomic power plants (18.47% of the total). Natural gas remained as the top source of U.S. electrical generation with a 37.57% share but down from 40.75% a year ago. Coal rebounded into second place (with a 22.60% share), growing 25.31% compared to the first three-quarters of 2020.

 

Longer-term trends, though, still suggest the gradual and probably accelerating displacement of coal and nuclear power by renewable energy sources, especially solar and wind. Compared to the first nine months of 2016 (i.e., five years ago), coal-generated electricity has declined by 23.08% and nuclear power is down by 5.33%. Meanwhile, renewables' share of total electrical generation has grown from 15.10% to 20.45% with wind expanding by 65.23% and solar increasing three-fold.

 

"Inasmuch as they have maintained an overall faster rate of growth than any other energy sources over the past half-decade and longer, it seems safe to say that solar and wind will eventually become the nation's primary electrical producers," noted the SUN DAY Campaign's executive director Ken Bossong. "They now have a growing lead over nuclear power; surpassed coal in 2020 and will likely do so again next year; and are rapidly cutting into natural gas's current dominance."

 

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NOTE: Unless otherwise indicated, the electricity figures cited above include EIA's "estimated small-scale solar photovoltaic" (e.g., rooftop solar systems) which accounts for 29.97% of total solar output and almost six percent (5.99%) of total net electrical generation by renewable energy sources.  

  

The latest issue of EIA's "Electric Power Monthly" was officially posted late on November 24, 2021.
For the data cited in this news update, see the table: 

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

 

The data for September 2016 can be found in the issue of EIA's "Electric Power Monthly" issued in November 2016. Go to: https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly . Follow the link to "Previous Issues" and see Table ES1.B.

 

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The SUN DAY Campaign is a non-profit research and educational 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 for addressing climate change. Follow on Twitter: @SunDayCampaign 

Discussions
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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 30, 2021

Trending in the right direction continually, but the nervous question continues to be whether it's fast enough

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 30, 2021

"Together, they [solar and wind] now provide one-eighth of U.S. electricity."

Source, Ken? The U.S. Environmental Information Administration (EIA) says solar and wind provide 10.7% of U.S. electricity. If so, you're exaggerating their contribution by 16%.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 30, 2021

Ken says:

The latest issue of EIA's "Electric Power Monthly" report (with data through September 30, 2021) also reveals that for the first nine months of 2021, solar (including distributed rooftop systems) and wind increased by 24.61% and 10.89% respectively compared to the same nine-month period in 2020. Combined, they grew by 15.00% and accounted for more than one-eighth (12.59%) of U.S. electrical generation (wind - 8.50%, solar - 4.09%). Moreover, wind and solar combined now provide more than three-fifths (61.55%) of the generation by renewable sources.

So the source is Electric Power Monthly for Jan-Sep 2021, which he provides the link for at the end of the article: https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.php?t=table_es1b

 

Wind 2021 YTD is 270,553 GWh, solar is 129,958 GWh (small scale + utility scale), for a total of 400,511 GWh out of a total generation (utility scale all fuels + small scale solar) of 3,118,290 GWh-- so that comes out to 12.6%, or over one-eighth YTD. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 30, 2021

Matt, Ken can cherry-pick this or that time period to support solar all he wants. Coal consumption was up 25.3% over the same time period, even more than solar. I guess we're supposed to find encouragement in that, or in the inability of solar to generate more than 10% of the electricity in any country of the world, or in the inability of solar to generate electricity for at least half of every day. Not me!

Ken Bossong's picture
Ken Bossong on Dec 2, 2021

My article acknowledged that coal had rebounded in 2021 and moved ahead of renewables during the first nine months of this year (renewables out-produced coal in 2020). That is why the article also included information on the five-year trends which shows overall strong growth by renewables but a sharp drop in coal-generated electricity. In its latest "Short-Term Energy Outlook" (released November 9, 2021), EIA forecasts coal to drop again in 2022 while renewables are slated to grow -- both are projected to provide about 22% of US electricity next year (we'll see which comes out on top - EIA gives the edge to renewables). Longer-term (i.e., next two or three years), coal should decline further as more and more coal plants are retired and no new capacity is in the pipeline according to FERC.

Ken Bossong's picture
Ken Bossong on Dec 2, 2021

The source for the statement that wind & solar provided one-eighth of US electricity during the first nine months of 2021 was the EIA's "Electric Power Monthly" report issued on November 24, 2021 -- see table ES1.B. It notes that wind provided 270,553 (thousand megawatthours) of electricity while solar (including distributed) provided 129,958. Total generation from all sources, including distributed solar, was 3,181,290. If you do the math, that means wind + solar were 12.589% of the total (or a bit over one-eighth). You referenced an older EIA source that is flawed for two reasons: first, it cites 2020 data which was made out-of-date by the rapid growth of both wind and solar (10.9% and 24.6% respectively) in 2021; and second, it lists only utility-scale wind & solar but neglects to include distributed solar which counts for 30% of total solar-generated electricity.

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Dec 1, 2021

Well it is growing in the right direction. I hope it hits a tipping point and grows exponentially. Battery storage lets it cover the toughest time period?

 

Peter Farley's picture
Peter Farley on Dec 1, 2021

Solar grew by 24%,.It only provides 3.7% of demand vs 11% in Germany and 12% in Australia so there is clearly room for rapid growth.  If solar grows by 20% compound until 2035 it will be producing 45% of US power demand. If wind including offshore grows by a compound 10% p.a over the same period it will provide 33%, about where Germany expects to be in 2025. Combined with nuclear, hydro and other renewables the US grid could be 95% carbon free by 2025. 

PUSHPRAJ JAINT's picture
PUSHPRAJ JAINT on Dec 2, 2021

Trend is very encouraging and showing govt thrust and push but still needs extra pace to meet net zero emission goal. I think all nations should take it aggressively as their KRAs to have required impetus.

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