In 2020, for the First Time: Renewable Energy Provided the US More Electricity Than Coal, and More Electricity Than Nuclear

Tomas Kåberger, Chair of Executive Board, Renewable Energy Institute

17 March 2021

in Japanese

As the full year data is now available from the US Energy Information Administration1, the development of the US electric power sector has displayed some remarkable shifts.

2020 was the first full year when renewable sources of electricity had a higher production than coal. It was also the first year when nuclear reactors provided more electricity than coal, and renewables more than nuclear!

Seen over the period from 2010 the number of operating nuclear reactors had decreased by ten, as eleven have closed and only Watts Bar 2 has been taken into operation. Still, the nuclear generation has only decreased by 17 terawatt hours (TWh) since 2010. Closing old reactors has been compensated by a significant improvement in the operation of the remaining reactors. But the drop in coal based generation, by more than 1,000 TWh during the same period, made nuclear electricity bigger than coal in 2020.

Total electricity from renewable sources has only doubled since 2010, but the increase is dominated by wind and solar together providing 92% of the increase. This was sufficient for renewables to overtake nuclear generation and coal generation for the first time in 2020.

Of the 1,000 TWh decline in coal based electricity, a little more than half is compensated by increased use of low priced gas, provided by fracking technologies. So the decline of total fossil fueled generation is more than 400 TWh. With total generation being almost constant in the US from 2010 to 2020 the 400 TWh decline in fossil fueled generation was largely replaced by the increase in solar and wind.

The simplified summary: Disregarding numbers below 100 TWh per year, the development between 2010 and 2020 of US electricity can be remembered like this:
Electricity generation: Constant.
Nuclear generation: Constant.
Coal based generation: Down by more than 1 000 TWh
Fossil gas based generation: up by 600 TWh
Renewable electricity generation: up by 400 TWh

So, we see a clear example of renewable electricity replacing fossil fuels, decreasing carbon dioxide emissions.

What is missing in this description is the development of batteries coming to supplement renewables in replacing gas and coal fired power plants while providing controlled power supply. This, as well as the development of opportunistic use of electricity to produce hydrogen during low price periods, will be of increasing importance to understand the operations of the system. But a challenge for various agencies in the world to describe.

The US seems to be busy fighting a blame game trying to establish if it was ice on some wind power plants, badly managed procurement of gas for power plants, or a nuclear reactor tripping that is the reason behind power cuts in Texas. The 2020 achievements may stay in the shadow as a result.

But the 2020 data deserves a spotlight!

External Links

  • JCI 気候変動イニシアティブ
  • 自然エネルギー協議会
  • 指定都市 自然エネルギー協議会
  • irelp
  • 全球能源互联网发展合作组织

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