- Wind and solar combined produced more electricity than coal in the first quarter of 2023 and nearly tied with nuclear power in March.
- Solar electricity generation grew by 7.8% in the first quarter, driven by a 24.0% increase in small-scale solar PV (e.g., rooftop solar).
- Wind electricity generation increased by 5.3% compared to the previous year, providing 12.5% of total U.S. electrical generation. Together, wind and solar accounted for 16.9% of the nation's electrical output in the first quarter.
Washington DC – 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,” noted the SUN DAY Campaign’s executive director Ken Bossong. “Renewables also seem well-positioned to provide over a quarter of the nation’s electrical generation in 2023.”
This article was provided for publication by Ken Bossong of the SUN DAY Campaign.
The SUN DAY Campaign is a non-profit research and educational organization founded in 1992 to support a rapid transition to 100% reliance on sustainable energy technologies as a cost-effective alternative to nuclear power and fossil fuels and as a solution to climate change.