Solar and wind generation continue to expand rapidly while coal is in a tailspin


In a year that has witnessed strong growth of renewable generation and declines in fossil-fuel production, the new edition of the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Electric Power Monthly report confirms solar and wind’s positions as the fastest growing sources of U.S. electricity.

In the month of July, solar, including distributed generation, accounted for nearly 3.5% of the nation’s total energy generation, up nearly 20% over the July 2019 mark of 2.8%. In the period from January to July, solar accounted for nearly 3.4% of the country’s generation, up 22.2% from the 2019 year-to-date mark of 2.6%.

It should be noted that these figures only factor in solar photovoltaic generation, with solar thermal generation providing modest additions.

When all renewable energy sources are taken into account, clean energy made up 9.5% of all electricity generation in July if you exclude hydroelectric, which the EIA does, and 16% if you include hydroelectric. On the year, renewable generation, without hydroelectric, provided 13% of all generation, up from 2019’s 11%. Renewables with hydroelectric provided 21.2% of total electrical output, up from 19.2% a year ago.

This breakout year for renewables has been highlighted by the month of May, where renewable resources reached an all-time high share of the country’s electricity generation at 25.3%.

These gains have been driven by the growth of wind and solar, which have grown in generation by a net of 15.5% in the past year. Wind, specifically, is up by 13.0% thus far in 2020 and has accounted for almost 8.5% of total generation.

Other sources suffer

Hydropower is down 2.0%, geothermal down 2.9%, biomass down 5.6% and biofuels is down 14.5%, all on the year.

Yet as hard as some of those renewable generation sources have fallen, no fuel type has had a harder fall than coal. Renewables have produced almost a fifth more electricity than coal through July, sitting at 19.6%. On its own, electrical generation by coal is 27.5% lower than it was through this point last year and has accounted for just 17.8% of the nation’s total.

And while not as stark as coal, renewables have generated 6.7% more electricity than nuclear power has, with nuclear’s output falling 1.7% over the year’s opening seven months.

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