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U.S. Electrical Generation by Wind + Solar Exceeded Coal in 1Q23 and Virtually Tied Nuclear Power in March

Ken Bossong's picture
Executive Director, SUN DAY Campaign

Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign since 1992

  • Member since 2003
  • 53 items added with 23,327 views
  • May 25, 2023

According to a review by the SUN DAY Campaign of data just released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), wind and solar combined produced more electricity than coal during the first quarter of 2023 and virtually tied nuclear power in March. 


The latest issue of EIA's "Electric Power Monthly" report (with data through March 31, 2023) reveals that in the first quarter of this year, electrical generation by solar (including small-scale distributed systems) grew by 7.8%, compared to the same period in 2022. This was driven in large part by growth in "estimated" small-scale (e.g., rooftop) solar PV whose output increased by 24.0% - faster than any other energy source - and accounted for nearly a third (32.8%) of total solar production.


The mix of utility-scale and small-scale solar PV plus utility-scale solar thermal provided 4.4% of the nation's electrical output during the first three months of 2023. 


Simultaneously, electrical generation by wind increased by 5.3% compared to the same period a year ago and provided one-eighth (12.5%) of total U.S. electrical generation. Together, wind and solar provided 16.9% - or over one-sixth - of the nation's electrical output in the first quarter of 2023. 


By comparison, electrical generation by coal plummeted by 28.6% and provided just 15.6% of total U.S. electrical generation during the quarter. In March alone, the nation's wind turbines produced almost as much electricity (44,355 gigawatt-hours or GWh) as did coal (49,863-GWh)


For the first quarter, electrical generation by nuclear power dropped by 0.6% and out-produced the combination of wind and solar. However, the wind-solar mix in the month of March alone virtually tied nuclear power: 62,734-GWh vs. 62,820-GWh. Moreover, the current growth rates of solar and wind strongly suggest they will eventually outpace nuclear power production for part or all of this year.


When generation by all renewable energy sources (i.e., including biomass, geothermal, and hydropower) is considered, renewables accounted for a quarter (24.9%) of total generation in the first three months of this year. That is a higher than their share (24.2%) in the first quarter of 2022 notwithstanding declines in production by hydropower (down 15.5%), wood + biomass (down 6.2% ), and geothermal (down 3.6%).


Thus, electricity generated by the full mix of renewable energy sources exceeded that by coal by 59.5%. Renewable electrical production also surpassed that of nuclear power by 28.2%.Only natural gas - with a 39.3% share of the total - provided more electricity than renewables.


Renewables have been out-producing coal and nuclear power for some time now with the combination of just wind and solar already ahead of coal this year and about to overtake nuclear power. Renewables also seem well-positioned to provide over a quarter of the nation's electrical generation in 2023.  


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Notes and Sources 


Unless otherwise indicated, the electricity figures cited above include EIA's "estimated small-scale solar photovoltaic" (e.g., rooftop solar systems) which accounts for 32.8% of total solar output and 5.8% of total net electrical generation by renewable energy sources during the first three months of 2023. 


EIA's latest "Electric Power Monthly" report was released on May 24, 2023. For the data cited in this news release, see Table ES1.A "Total Electric Power Industry Summary Statistics 2023 and 2022" and Table ES1.B. “Total Electric Power Industry Summary Statistics, Year-to-Date 2023 and 2022”at:


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