Renewable Electricity Growth Is Outpacing Other Sources of Electricity
In spite of the current administration’s efforts, the US energy industry is edging toward a cleaner, greener future with renewable energy growth. Major renewable energy projects are currently in development, and their growth in the next couple of years will supersede that of conventional energy sources like coal.
Current Sources of Electricity
The three major categories of energy for electricity production include fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and petroleum), nuclear energy, and renewable energy sources. Natural gas has been the largest source for production, generating about 32% of the United States’ electricity. Coal yields about 30% and is the second largest energy resource. Renewable resources have so far provided nearly 20% of electricity in the United States and continue to grow in their contribution—especially in solar and wind.
Solar and Wind Fastest Growing Sources of Electricity
This is welcome news in light of the global warming reports and warnings that are being released with increasing frequency. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects non-hydroelectric renewable energy resources such as solar and wind energy to be the fastest growing source of U.S. electricity for at least the next two years. This year, the mass production of solar energy from utility electricity is predicted to grow by 10%, and by 17% by 2020.
The energy industry expects to make new electricity generating capacity available, resulting in more growth in electricity generated by solar and wind. About 11 gigawatts of wind capacity is scheduled to come online this year, which would make it the largest amount of new wind energy capacity installed in the U.S. since 2012. The EIA expects wind energy to surpass hydroelectric power generation of electricity. In 2020, wind capacity will increase by a further 8 more gigawatts and the share of U.S. electricity generation from wind is projected to increase to 9%.
Solar energy became the third-largest renewable energy source in the United States, surpassing biomass in 2017. The U.S. electric power sector plans to increase solar capacity by 32%, adding about 10 gigawatts by the end of 2020. We expect solar to contribute slightly more than 2% of total utility-scale generation in 2020.
The US Is Moving Toward 100% Renewable
Last year, California set an ambitious goal to reach 100% renewable energy in just over 25 years. Now, thirteen other states have joined in their efforts.
Though the current administration has been rolling back climate change regulations, some state politicians are deciding that they won’t wait for them to catch up to the sentiments of the American people. Environment America has launched a campaign calling out nine states to become 100% renewable by 2050. Other states are already on their way towards reaching that goal and together they represent 42% of the U.S. population and more than a quarter of its economic input.
How Could This Benefit the US?
Less Global Warming and Climate Change
Human activity emits an overwhelming amount of carbon dioxide and other global warming emissions into the atmosphere. These gases are like a blanket, trapping heat above the Earth’s surface and expediting global warming in turn. In the U.S., about 29% of global warming emissions come from the electricity sector and most of these emissions come from fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.
Most renewable energy sources produce little to no global warming emissions. This is evident when comparing natural gas and coal to wind energy outputs. Burning natural gas for electricity releases up to 2 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kWh, while coal emits between 1.4 to 3.6 pounds of CO2 per kWh.
Improved Public Health
Water and air pollution from coal cause respiratory problems, neurological damage, heart attacks, cancer, premature death, and other life-threatening issues. The life cycle costs and public health effects of coal are at an estimated $75.6 billion every year, according to a study done by Harvard University.
Renewable energy, on the other hand, does not produce these negative health impacts from air and water pollution. Wind, solar, and hydroelectric systems generate electricity without associated air pollution emissions. Geothermal and biomass systems may produce very small amounts of air pollutants, but they are a lot lower than those of coal and natural gas-fired power plants.
Healthier Crops And Drinking Water
Since wind and solar energy require basically no water to operate, they don’t pollute water resources or strain the supply, nor do they compete with agriculture, drinking water reserves, or other important water necessities.
A small fraction of U.S. electricity currently comes from the wind, sun, plant matter, and the heat of the Earth. But studies are starting to show that renewable energy can provide for a significant amount of electricity needs, even after you take into account the potential constraints like storage. By 2050, renewable energy could comfortably provide up to 80% of US electricity.
Fossil fuel technologies are typically mechanized and cost an extraordinary amount of money, whereas the renewable energy industry is more labor intensive—solar panels require human installation and wind farms need technicians to main the turbines.
Accordingly, renewable energy supports thousands of jobs in the United States. In 2016, the wind industry directly employed over 100,000 full-time equivalent employees in a variety of capacities including project management, operations, maintenance, consulting services, transportation, logistics, manufacturing, legal, financial, and more. The solar industry followed this trend, employing more than 260,000 people. The hydroelectric and geothermal industries employed over 70,000 people in 2017.[5,6]
Growth in clean energy also creates positive economic effects. Industries in the renewable energy supply chain will benefit, and unrelated local businesses will benefit from increased household and business incomes. A UCS analysis found that a 25-by-2025 national renewable electricity standard would stimulate over $250 billion in new capital investment for renewable energy technologies, $13.5 billion in new landowner income from biomass production and/or wind land lease payments, and $11.5 billion in new property tax revenue for local communities.
Stable Energy Prices
The costs of renewable energy technology has been steadily declining and are projected to drop even more. The average price to install solar panels has dropped more than 70% between 2010 and 2017 and the cost of generating electricity from wind dropped by 66% between 2009 and 2016. The further these markets mature, the more costs will decline and companies will increasingly take advantage of this scale economy. In turn, this renewable energy will continue to provide affordable electricity across the country and help stabilize more energy prices in the future since they operate at such a low cost.
Is This Growth In Solar And Wind Energy Enough?
Despite the growth of solar and wind energy as a renewable electricity source, it is not enough to make renewable energy the main source of energy. According to the EIA, renewable energy will continue to grow rapidly over the next five years, but not fast enough to meet long-term climate and sustainability goals—such as those defined in the New Green Deal. We must think of other ways we can support sustainability.
Nuclear energy is another form of energy that can drive us towards a carbon-neutral future, assisting the efforts put forth by the solar and wind energy industries. It often has a negative connotation associated with it—but many of the fears associated with nuclear energy are due to 60-year-old technologies and equipment that needed to be replaced. New technologies are far safer and despite the common misconceptions, nuclear energy actually provides less harmful effects on the environment compared to conventional energy sources. Excluding the initial costs, nuclear energy is relatively cheap to generate, allowing more people to have access to the electricity they need.
At the current trajectory, renewable energy will only account for 18% of the world’s energy by 2040, which is currently below the target by 28%. To make an even bigger difference in energy, renewable sources will need to be implicated in transportation and heat for homes, which is a big “blind spot” in the effort towards a greener future.
What’s The Difference Between Electricity and Energy?
Electricity is a form of energy, but is not the same thing as energy. At the same time, not all forms of energy create electricity. Therefore, even with the growth of renewable resources being used to generate electricity, it is not enough to contribute to a 100% renewable future. It’s only a small piece of the energy pie and there’s still lots of work to be done.
How You Can Help Drive Renewable Energy Growth
You can help bring affordable energy to more homes by putting pressure on your local government to enact laws that provide a path to cleaner energy. The more we support and vote for a sustainable future, the faster renewable energy will continue to grow.
You can also support renewable energy as a consumer by opting in to choose companies that provide and invest in green energy, like Just Energy. We proudly offer JustGreen to our customers to help you power your home with renewable electricity and offset natural gas. You can reduce your carbon footprint by investing in carbon offsets and supporting projects that help counter your carbon contributions. The interest, investment, and growth in renewable energy technologies at the consumer level is a big way to drive real change and bring sustainable energy to the near future.
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- “U.S. Energy Information Administration – EIA – Independent Statistics and Analysis.” Factors Affecting Gasoline Prices – Energy Explained, Your Guide To Understanding Energy – Energy Information Administration, www.eia.gov/outlooks/steo/.
- “These Dozen States Could Move to 100% Renewable Electricity.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, www.cbsnews.com/news/these-dosen-states-could-move-to-100-percent-renewable-electricity/.
- “Benefits of Renewable Energy Use.” Union of Concerned Scientists, www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/renewable-energy/public-benefits-of-renewable-power#references.
- “Job Creation Opportunities in Hydropower.” National Hydropower Association, Navigant Consulting, www.hydro.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/NHA_JobsStudy_FinalReport.pdf.
- Jennejohn, Dan. “Green Jobs Through Geothermal Energy.” Geothermal Energy Association, GEA, Oct. 2010, www.geo-energy.org/pdf/reports/GreenJobs_Through_Geothermal_Energy_Final_Oct2010.pdf.
- “Energy Resources for State, Local, and Tribal Governments.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 6 Dec. 2018, www.epa.gov/statelocalenergy.
- DiChristopher, Tom. “Renewable Energy Is Growing Too Slowly to Meet Climate Goals, International Energy Agency Warns.” CNBC, CNBC, 7 Oct. 2018, www.cnbc.com/2018/10/07/renewable-energy-needs-to-speed-up-to-meet-climate-goals-iea-warns.html.