Stat of the day: Solar electricity expands by 22 percent in first half of 2020

renewables versus coal

The latest issue of the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)’s “Electric Power Monthly” (with data through June 30, 2020) reveals that solar and wind both showed continued, strong growth, expanding faster than all other energy sources. For the period January – June, solar-generated electricity – including distributed solar – expanded by 22.0% (compared to the same period in 2019) and provided nearly 3.4% of the nation’s total, according to a SUN DAY Campaign analysis of the data.

Combined, net electrical generation by wind and solar is 16.4% greater than a year ago and provided a bit more than 12.5% – or one-eighth – of total U.S. electrical production during the first six months of 2020. Together with hydropower, biomass, and geothermal, renewables provided 22.3% of total electrical output – up from 19.9% a year earlier.

Renewables produced almost a third (i.e., 31.3%) more electricity than coal through June 2020. In fact, electrical generation by coal was 31.0% lower than a year earlier and accounted for just 16.9% of the nation’s total.

“Renewable sources combined are now second only to natural gas in providing electricity to U.S. homes and businesses,” noted the SUN DAY Campaign’s executive director Ken Bossong. “If current growth patterns continue – or even accelerate – it will not be many years more before they move into first place.”

In addition, renewable energy sources produced 7.8% more electricity than did nuclear power during the same six-month period and seem poised to further widen the gap. In June alone, renewables outperformed nuclear power by 16.4%.

EIA’s data for just the month of June also appear to more-or-less reinforce the trends first seen in April and May that may be attributable to the coronavirus’ impact on competing energy sources – that is, renewables overall are faring much better than nuclear power and fossil fuels.

Net electrical generation by coal in June was 16.7% less than a year earlier while that by nuclear power dropped by 2.3%. Electricity provided by natural gas was 4.6% more than in June 2019.

In comparison, total electrical generation by all renewable energy sources combined rose by 16.3%. Non-hydro renewables alone provided 21.5% more electricity in June 2020 than a year ago – driven primarily by a 31.4% expansion by wind and an 18.1% increase in solar generation. Conventional hydropower’s output also grew 8.1%. However, electrical generation by biomass fell by 10.0% while that from geothermal power dipped by 1.5% .


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