- In a remarkable shift towards renewable energy, wind and solar power have outperformed coal and nearly matched nuclear power in U.S. electricity generation in the first four months of 2023.
- According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, solar energy has grown by 10.24%, while wind energy increased by 1.97% compared to the same period in 2022.
- Together, they contributed to over one-sixth of the country's electricity output, surpassing coal's share and coming close to that of nuclear power.
- This significant change marks a new milestone in the country's transition to cleaner energy sources, highlighting the increasing potential of renewable energy in reshaping the U.S. energy landscape.
The United States has been transitioning to more sustainable and clean energy sources in the past few years. One significant change noted is the increased contribution of wind and solar energy to the country’s electricity generation. According to a recent review by the SUN DAY Campaign, which analyzes data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the results for the first four months of 2023 show that wind and solar energy together have exceeded the output of coal and nearly matched that of nuclear power.
In April, wind energy alone produced more electricity than coal. Furthermore, when the output of wind and solar power was combined, it exceeded the production of nuclear energy. This trend has been consistent in the first four months of the year, with wind and solar energy combined outperforming coal and nearly tying with nuclear power.
The EIA’s “Electric Power Monthly” report reveals more specifics about the growth of these renewable energy sources. Solar energy, including small-scale distributed systems, has shown an impressive growth of 10.24% compared to the same period in 2022, which is faster than any other energy source. The significant increase in the output of small-scale solar PV, such as rooftop installations, contributed largely to this growth. In the first third of 2023, these small-scale systems accounted for almost a third of the total solar production.
Solar energy, including both utility-scale and small-scale solar PV, plus utility-scale solar thermal, accounted for 5.05% of the country’s electricity output in the first four months of 2023. At the same time, wind energy generation increased by 1.97% compared to the same period in 2022, accounting for over one-eighth (12.85%) of the total U.S. electricity generation. Together, wind and solar energy made up over one-sixth (17.91%) of the country’s electricity output, surpassing coal’s share (14.98%) and getting close to nuclear power’s contribution (19.17%).
When considering all renewable energy sources, which include biomass, geothermal, and hydropower, along with wind and solar, they contributed over a quarter (25.73%) of the U.S. electricity generation, showing a slight increase from the previous year’s 25.35%. This growth was achieved despite a significant decrease in hydropower output, which was down by 14.04%.
In contrast, electricity generation from coal saw a sharp decline, decreasing by 28.40%. Nuclear power’s contribution remained more or less constant, with only a 0.05% increase. The only non-renewable source that saw a substantial growth was natural gas, which increased by 9.95%.
The EIA’s data for April 2023 is particularly striking. Solar energy generation increased by 15.58%, with small-scale solar PV showing a remarkable 26.73% expansion. The contribution of solar energy to the national electric mix rose to 7.11%, and together with wind, these two renewable sources accounted for over a fifth (21.05%) of the nation’s electricity. In total, all renewable energy sources provided 28.49% of U.S. electricity generation.
In terms of raw output, wind turbines alone produced more electricity (42,848 GWh) than coal (39,880 GWh) in April. Solar and wind combined generated 62.18% more electricity than coal and outperformed nuclear power by 14.47%.
Ken Bossong, the executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign, pointed out that these figures represent a new milestone in the country’s energy production. Wind energy is now outperforming coal, and the combination of solar and wind is generating more electricity than nuclear power. With the continued growth of renewable sources, it’s likely that they will exceed 25% of the total electricity production for the year, further establishing the dominance of renewable energy sources in the U.S. energy mix.
This trend towards renewable energy sources is driven by multiple factors. These include falling costs of wind and solar technology, increased public awareness and concern about climate change, policy incentives and regulatory supports promoting clean energy, and corporate sustainability commitments. The growth of small-scale solar PV, in particular, points to the impact of policies supporting distributed generation and the increasing affordability of residential solar installations.
However, while the data shows promising trends, it’s important to note that challenges remain in fully transitioning to a clean energy future. These include grid reliability concerns, integration of variable renewable energy sources, need for more energy storage solutions, and achieving equitable access to clean energy benefits.
The sharp drop in coal’s share of electricity generation and the stagnant growth of nuclear power highlight the challenges faced by these traditional energy sources. The coal industry has been hit hard by competition from cheaper natural gas and renewable energy, as well as stricter environmental regulations. Nuclear power, despite being a low-carbon energy source, faces hurdles such as high upfront costs, long construction periods, and public safety concerns.
The growth of natural gas, on the other hand, underscores its role as a “bridge fuel” in the transition to cleaner energy. While natural gas is a fossil fuel, it emits less carbon dioxide than coal when burned. However, its role in a low-carbon future is contentious due to concerns about methane leaks during production and transportation, and the risk of locking in fossil fuel infrastructure.
Overall, the shift towards renewable energy in the U.S. is progressing at a notable pace, as evidenced by the latest EIA data. The ongoing growth and potential of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, are transforming the country’s energy landscape and contributing to efforts to combat climate change. The country’s energy future will likely continue to evolve as technologies advance, policies adapt, and the economy responds to these changes.
Adapted from information provided by Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign.