Despite the Covid-19 pandemic and sharp economic contraction, the U.S. achieved a record year for renewables in 2020, adding a combined 33.6 GW of solar and wind capacity.
That’s according to the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook, an annual joint report from BloombergNEF (BNEF) and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE).
Records were also set for each individual technology in 2020. The report said solar bested its previous 2016 high with 16.5 GW built, while wind had its strongest year ever with 17.1 GW added. The report further noted that utility-scale solar+storage projects are growing in popularity across the country.
BCSE President Lisa Jacobson explained, “Global supply chain disruptions, workforce protection measures, and policy uncertainty required adaptation across the industry.”
“In a year when so much went sideways, it was a blockbuster year for renewable energy build,” added Ethan Zindler, BNEF’s head of Americas. “Decarbonization of U.S. energy accelerated in 2020, and the benefits will be felt for years to come.”
Looking at the country’s overall power mix, the report also found that renewables’ contribution to the U.S. power grid set another record in 2020, rising 11% year-over-year. Renewable energy, including hydropower, generated a fifth of U.S. power last year.
The report said natural gas remained the largest source of U.S. power generation at 41%, but its 2019-2020 growth was slower than 2018-2019. Meanwhile, coal-fired power’s contribution slipped to 19% from 45% a decade ago. The report attributed coal’s decline to weak demand, continual plant retirements, and competition for lower-carbon power sources.
The report found the pandemic and resultant economic disruption in 2020 caused a massive drop in national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Energy demand for electricity and transportation fell by 3.8% and 14.4%, respectively, supporting the 9% year-over-year decline in GHG emissions for the U.S.
The report said this fall in emissions is the most significant on record and puts the U.S. on track to meet its 2025 Paris Agreement goals, to which President Joe Biden recommitted the U.S. on his first day in office.
The report acknowledged that energy demand and emissions are expected to rebound with widespread Covid-19 vaccinations in 2021. The positive impacts of cleaner energy, however, will persist.
The full report is available for download here.
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