December 28th, 2020 by Zachary Shahan
Going into 2021, CleanTechnica is taking a look at electricity generation changes over the past decade. We have been publishing monthly US power capacity reports and monthly US electricity generation reports for a long time. However, we hadn’t previously gone all the way back to 2010 to examine changes in electricity generation across the whole decade. Part of the reason for that is that the US Energy Information Administration (which supplies much of our data) didn’t start producing estimates for small-scale solar generation until 2014. For this new report, small-scale solar electricity generation and market share in the years 2010–2013 are CleanTechnica estimates rather than EIA estimates.
Looking at 5 key electricity generation sources — solar, wind, nuclear, natural gas, and coal — we can get a clearer view of how US electricity generation has shifted over the past decade, but also how much more work needs to be done for the country to get to 40%, 50%, or 100% renewable energy market share.
(Note that interactive versions of all of the static charts in this article are included on the bottom of the article. You can hover over the bars in those charts to see electricity generation market share in any applicable year.)
Starting with solar, we began the decade with generation at nearly 0%, but a rapid and consistent climb has ended up with solar power reaching 3.4% market share in 2020, a notable jump even from 2.7% in 2019.
Indeed, 2020 could provide the biggest growth for solar in terms of raw electricity generation market share (a 0.7 percentage point increase from all of 2019 to the first 10 months of 2020). However, keep in mind that the last two months of the year are two of the worst for solar resources, and, thus, for solar power generation. Expect solar’s share in 2020 to drop a bit once we get November and December data in.
The other biggest climb for solar power’s share of electricity generation was from 2016 to 2017, when it shifted from 1.3% to 1.9%.
Yes, we still have a long way to go before solar power generates a significant bulk of US electricity generation, but progress is clearly being made.
Wind power also had notable growth across the decade. Wind turbines got much bigger, got much more efficient, and helped lead a fairly rapid increase in clean renewable energy production.
From 2010 to 2020, wind power’s share of the US electricity market nearly quadrupled, from 2.3% to 8% market share.
While many individual projects and advancements seem relatively small on their own, they all add up, and the trend over time is large — or huge even.
Then there’s coal power. Coal power has rolled down a mountain in the past 10+ years, going from 44.7% of US electricity generation in 2010 to 18.6% of generation in the first 10 months of 2020.
This is the feel-good US energy story of the decade. Well, there have a been a few great stories, but this one stands out due to the extremely harmful effects coal pollution has on human health as well as its immense contribution to global warming pollution.
Nuclear power is an interesting one in a different way — its share of US electricity generation has hardly changed from 2010–2020. It has gone from 19.5% in 2010 to 19.3% today, with slight meandering of a baby roller coaster along the way.
The last two months of 2020 could even bring nuclear back up to 19.5%, as it performs better in winter months and solar performs worse in winter months.
The wolf in cheap’s clothing is natural gas, which sounds like a nice thing and emits less pollution than coal but does generate much more pollution than is widely assumed and needs to decrease, not increase.
Natural gas market share increased from 23.9% in 2010 to 40.6% in 2020.
For interactive versions of the charts above, see:
Key sources: US EIA
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