Renewable Energy’s New Reign in the USA

Good news for clean power producers and green fans everywhere: the percentage of America’s total energy generated by renewable sources grew from 15 to 18 percent in 2017. While this is still just a shadow of the increasingly rosy renewable future that most analysts expect, it signals a solid increase in the share of total electricity generated, with 2017 setting a new record for wind, hydroelectric and solar.

In raw numbers from the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Factbook, energy generated through renewable sources in the United States grew from 628 terawatt hours (TWh) in 2016 to 717 TWh in 2017, a 14 percent year-over-year increase in actual renewables-generated power – an achievement helped by full-year operation of several of the country’s newest and largest renewable energy infrastructure projects that were completed in 2016.

Key to this growth in U.S. renewables is its broadening geographic base. According to GTM Research, a clean energy market information firm, eight of the 10 fastest-growing U.S. solar markets in 2017 were in the West, Midwest or South, with Alabama and Mississippi topping the list.

Analysts suggest that this expansion across the U.S. heartland is offsetting slowing growth in maturing California and Northeast cities, and represents a significant shift for an industry that has historically relied on politically liberal coastal states where renewable energy development is mandated to combat air pollution and climate change.

Clearly, solar and other clean energy alternatives continue to chip away at the one-time dominance of traditional carbon-based fuels in the United States.

Despite natural gas remaining the top energy choice last year, electricity generated by natural gas was down 8.1 percent. And, while coal as a share of energy consumed in the USA remains steady at 30 percent, no new plants are currently being built to replace the 12.5 gigawatts-worth of infrastructure scheduled for retirement in 2018. 

Nuclear power also remains stagnant at 20 percent of all generated power in the 50 states. At this pace, experts expect renewables to surpass nuclear as a percent-of-share by 2020. 

All of this comes as Americans decrease their use of power despite steady GDP growth. Household spending on electricity was also down in 2017, from 1.4 percent of personal expenditures to 1.3 percent.

The icing on the renewable energy cake? Greenhouse gas emissions in the USA hit a 25-year low in 2017 – proving the positive global consequences of collective local action.

And we’ve only just begun.

Leslie Gomez