Renewable energy sources provided more than a quarter of total U.S. electrical generation in April

In the first third of 2021, renewables retook their lead over coal and nuclear power while natural gas generation dropped sharply

Electrical generation by renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) set a new record in April 2021 and accounted for 25.7% of total U.S. production. Further, solar and wind output during the month was 29.9% and 22.1% greater respectively than a year earlier, according to a SUN DAY Campaign analysis of new data released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The latest issue of EIA’s “Electric Power Monthly” report (with data through April 30, 2021) also reveals that for the first third of 2021, solar (including distributed rooftop systems) and wind increased by 26.1% and 13.4% respectively. Combined, they grew by 16.5% and accounted for almost one-seventh (13.9%) of U.S. electrical generation. Wind and solar combined also now provide more than three-fifths (61.5%) of the generation by renewable sources.

That growth more than compensated for reduced output by hydropower (down by 8.7%), biomass (down 4.4%), and geothermal (down 3.7%). Non-hydro renewable generation still increased by 13.6% during the first four months of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020. And generation by all renewables, including hydropower, grew by 5.7% compared to the previous year. Renewables’ share of the nation’s electrical generation for the first third was 22.5% – up from 22.0% a year earlier.

The modest but steady annual expansion of renewables’ share of total electrical output, driven largely by the significant growth of wind and solar-generated electricity, has been a consistent trend for more than a decade. For example, ten years ago (i.e., first four months of 2011), renewables were 13.7% of the total – with hydropower accounting for nearly two-thirds of the output by renewable sources. Five years later (i.e., first four months of 2016), renewables provided 17.7% of total U.S. electrical generation – with non-hydro renewables and hydropower neck-and-neck.

By comparison, as renewables’ share has increased, that of fossil fuels and nuclear power has receded. Notably, electrical generation by natural gas during the first third of 2021 fell by 8.4% compared to the first four months of 2020. Natural gas’ share of the nation’s electrical generation during the first third of last year was 39.1% but had diminished to 34.7% this year.

Meanwhile, coal – which had started the year with an early lead over renewables – ultimately generated 2.2% less electricity than renewables during the first third of 2021 and 29.2% less in April alone. It provided 22.0% of total generation – down from 27.6% five years earlier.

Similarly, electrical output by the nation’s nuclear reactors decreased by 2.9% to 19.7% of the total, enabling renewables to further solidify their lead. Collectively, renewables outpaced nuclear power during both the first third of 2021 and the month of April alone by 14.2% and 33.5% respectively.

“Reaching the Biden Administration’s clean energy goals is a major challenge but one that is within reach,” noted the SUN DAY Campaign’s executive director Ken Bossong. “EIA’s most recent data confirm that renewables have successfully provided more than a quarter of the nation’s electricity for at least one month and continue to show strong growth.”

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