US wind and solar generation up 10.5% in 2019, fossils down 2.7%

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The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) released the full year’s electricity generation and demand numbers in February’s Electric Power Monthly. The nation as a whole generated 4.15 TWh of electricity, down 1.2% from 2018, a change attributed to overall warmer weather in 2019.

Solar power generation grew 14.9% year-over-year, driven by photovoltaic’s 15.9% increase, as solar thermal generation fell over 10%. In total, solar power was just under 2.6% of the nation’s total electricity generation for 2019, compared to 2018’s 2.2%.

Wind and solar photovoltaic growth numbers are just starting to emerge from the depths of being no more than rounding errors on the annual report. Wind on its own, for the first time, generated more electricity than hydroelectricity in a naturally down year. Together, wind and solar made up 9.8% of all electricity generation. The pair increased their share of all generation in the U.S. by greater than 1% in a single year.

The greatest factor towards electricity’s nearly 10% lower U.S. emissions in 2019 came from the ongoing shift from coal to gas. However, the duo generated 2.5% less electricity in total, with wind and solar’s growth fulfilling nearly 60% of that decrease.

The absolute increase of wind and solar generation was 38 GWh. In comparison, the decrease in overall generation was 51 GWh, with coal falling 180 GWh, hydroelectricity falling 19 GWh and gas gaining 113 GWh.

The share of CO2 free electricity generation increased by 1%, reaching 37.6%. Nuclear power made up almost 52% of the nation’s clean electricity generation, with output up a small amount.

Growth rates slowed, but are projected to jump again 

While solar photovoltaic’s 15 GWh of growth in 2019 was about equal to all generation in 2015, it also represented the smallest increase since 2016, which saw a similar increase. This growth in generation is mostly based on the 11.7 GW installed in 2018, as most of 2019’s installed volume was installed in the second half of the year and much in the 4th quarter. The volume set to be installed this year won’t fully be recognized until the February 2022 report is released.

2020 is projected to be the first to blow past 2016’s 15 GW of solar power installed. If the EIA’s projections are hit, a 60% increase in capacity will be deployed over the record year. Next year is projected to grow a bit over 2020 potential record values.