Our rapid and inevitable achievement of a clean energy future here in the United States was reaffirmed with the disclosure of data from two federal agencies showing renewable energy reached an unprecedented share of the nation’s energy mix in 2015.
The latest monthly power report from DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA), which updates the data from all 12 months of 2015, shows renewable energy made up nearly 13.5 percent of utility-scale electrical output in the United States last year. The EIA says non-hydro renewables jumped by 6.9 percent ‑ biomass was up by 0.3 percent, wind by 5.1 percent, geothermal by 5.6 percent, and solar by 49.6 percent ‑ offsetting a 3.2-percent decline in hydropower attributed to drought conditions across much of the western United States.
These latest numbers show that electricity generated by renewable energy grew by more than two percent above 2014 levels, a significant change from earlier EIA projections showing renewables share of consumption in 2015 would actually drop 1.8 percent from the previous year’s level.
The EIA numbers far outpace agency projections from just four years ago and now show actual generation from non-hydro renewables last year to have reached nearly 300,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) from utility-scale facilities alone. The agency also says more than 12,000 MWh was generated by distributed solar PV– mostly rooftop systems. The EIA concedes that its numbers do not include the amount of generation from other distributed, small-scale renewables, such as small wind, that are not connected to a grid.
Meanwhile, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) “Energy Infrastructure Update” shows power generation facilities fired by renewable sources now make up nearly 18 percent of total installed capacity in the United States.
Hydropower continues to have the largest share of capacity at 8.56 percent, with wind fast approaching at 6.37 percent. Biomass-sourced generation represents 1.43 percent, solar makes up 1.24 percent and geothermal provides 0.33 percent of U.S. electrical capacity. The share of installed capacity made up by renewables other than hydropower ‑ biomass, geothermal, solar, wind – totals 9.37 percent, exceeding both nuclear (9.15 percent) and oil (3.84 percent).
To drive the point home of the growing role of renewables in our energy mix, FERC data also shows all new electrical capacity added in January of this year is powered by wind (468 MW) and solar (145 MW). And that builds on an ongoing trend demonstrated by FERC’s December monthly update, which showed renewable energy technologies accounted for 64 percent of all new generating capacity installed in 2015.
FERC says the total installed generating capacity of wind, biomass, solar and geothermal sources climbed to 109.6 GW this past January 2016. But that number reflects only large-scale renewable energy facilities because the commission data comes only from those plants with a nameplate capacity of at least 1 megawatt and does not include capacity offered by rooftop solar and other smaller, distributed energy systems.
Further underscoring the inevitable shift towards clean energy being powered by the marketplace and government policies is Oregon legislation signed into law this week by Gov. Kate Brown raising the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) from 25 percent in 2025 to 50 percent in 2040. The measure also calls for the end of the burning of coal to generate power by 2035. Of particular significance is the fact the bill was crafted from a consensus reached between clean energy advocates and the state’s leading utilities.
Oregon joins several other states in implementing aggressive renewable energy requirements, including California and New York, which have a 50-percent RPS by 2030, Vermont (75 percent by 2032) and Hawaii (100 percent by 2045). Also significant indicators are developments such as Iowa generating more than 31 percent of its power from wind last year; the Minnesota Department of Commerce announcing last week that 21 percent of the state’s electricity came from renewable resources in 2015; and Texas setting a new records on Feb. 18, one for total wind generation at more than 14,000 MW, and the other for wind generating its largest ever share of the state’s electricity output – 45 percent.
There is more on the trend to come. Later this month, the EIA will release its 2015 renewable energy production and consumption figures for all energy sectors, including transportation. And we will share those numbers here. Even though transportation is the only sector that is not following a trend of decreased consumption, the growing penetration of renewables should result in higher consumption rates of clean energy in all sectors, confirming our unalterable progress toward the 25x’25 goal.