You do not need to tell that 2020 was a terrible year. Killed nearly 2 million people, including more than 350,000 Americans, and the epidemic left the global economy in disarray. But with a new report showing that all things considered, one area saw a truly wild economic success: renewable energy.
The Bloomberg NEF and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy’s Factbook in the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook shows that in 2020, renewable energy recorded an 11% increase in US power by 2019 over the previous year. Clean sources, mostly wind and solar, produced the country’s fifth power in 2020.
The country produced a record 33.6 GW of new wind and solar capacity, with both sources their best year ever seen. The construction of 2019 has increased the wind power capacity of the country by 17,100 MW – an increase of 85% over the 2019 construction. That’s enough to give the US 122,000 megawatts of wind capacity online or to power 38 million American homes. Solar energy has also created an annual capacity addition record. In 2020, 16,500 megawatts of new solar were brought online, meaning the US now has 47,000 megawatts of solar online, or enough to power 11 million homes.
“We could never fully envision the growth going on in spite of the resilience and unprecedented headwinds of these sectors,” Emily Duncan, chairperson of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, said in a press call.
The persistence of renewables is very notable, especially given the 3.8% drop in electricity demand amid lockdowns in the country. Even durable cars had a decent year; While internal combustion engine vehicle sales declined by about 15% compared to 2019, electric vehicle sales remained level (although their overall sales were still a part of all vehicle sales).
“It was great to stay flat, given the circumstances,” said Ethan Zindler, head of America at Blooming NEF.
Another good news from the report is that the coal industry continues to boom. Its contribution to US energy fell to a record 19% in 2020, down from 45% a decade earlier, and the industry is unlikely to recover. Yet the continued decline indicates the need to help workers affected by the closure of coal plants and mines.
The report shows that renewable energy is doing well financially, but that does not mean that everything was going smoothly for the sustainable electricity sector in 2020. While it proved to be adaptable overall, previous research suggests it saw thousands of layoffs. The study also suggests that things are not changing very fast. This is most evident in its findings on natural gas.
The report noted, “Natural gas remained the largest source of US electricity generation at 41% and the use of natural gas in electricity set a new record, although its growth in 2019–19 was slow in 2019–2020.”
It is also a major source of carbon emissions. Prior to the epidemic, it was the number one contributor to the increase in US carbon emissions in 2019. Gas infrastructure leaks also emit methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times more powerful than carbon in terms of global warming. For the sake of the planet, we need to phase it out in favor of more durable back-up for intermittent power such as battery storage.
Yes, the report shows that the US saw a 9% drop in greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 compared to the previous year. The report noted, “The decline reduced US emissions by about 20% from 2005 levels and, at least temporarily, cost the country a 26–28% reduction vs. meeting the original Paris agreement of 2005 levels Placed on a trajectory. ”
But now the question will be how to stay on that downward trajectory – or reduce carbon emissions even faster – without imposing a strict lockdown or evacuating people and falling into economic disaster. To do this, we must reduce natural gas production and speed up renewable installations while in transit. And we have to maintain those trajectories even after the pandemic uses energy. We need to increase energy efficiency and make the grid more reliable as Texas’ current blackout shows. He will do all the planning. Although, the report shows the renewal of the market, we cannot leave the transition to the market – we need policy to ensure that this happens quickly and fairly.