Solar was nation’s fastest growing source of electricity in 2021

According to the latest review of data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), electrical generation by renewable energy sources accounted for 21.02% of total US electrical generation in 2021.

The SUN DAY Campaign reviewed the latest issue of EIA’s “Electric Power Monthly” report (with data through December 31, 2021) and also found that solar (including utility-scale and residential) increased by 25.23%, making it the nation’s fastest growing source of electricity in 2021. Wind grew 12.37% compared to 2020. Combined , solar and wind grew by 15.96% and accounted for 13.05% of US electrical generation (wind: 9.12%, solar: 3.93%). Moreover, wind and solar combined now provide more than three-fifths (62.08%) of the generation by renewable sources.

In addition, geothermal posted a gain of 2.19% while electricity generated by wood + other biomass increased by 1.42%. Taken together, generation by all non-hydro renewables grew by 14.08%.

Reflecting severe drought conditions during the year, though, hydropower fell by 8.78%. That notwithstanding, all renewables combined — including hydropower — produced 6.17% more electricity than a year earlier. Renewable sources also expanded their lead over nuclear power, providing 12.5% ​​more electricity than the nation’s nuclear power plants (18.69% of total US generation). Natural gas remained as the top source of US electrical generation with a 37.82% share but down from 40.12% a year ago. Coal rebounded into second place (with a 21.58% share), growing 16.20% compared to 2020.

Longer-term trends, though, still suggest the gradual and probably accelerating displacement of coal and nuclear power by renewable energy sources, especially solar and wind. EIA expects 21.8 GW of new utility-scale solar capacity to come online in 2022 along with 7.6 GW of new wind capacity and 4.4 GW of small-scale solar capacity. Hydropower also seems aimed to rebound in 2022; it increased its output by 19.26% in December 2021 compared to December 2020. As a consequence, EIA now expects renewables’ share of US electrical generation to top 22% this year and exceed that of coal while nuclear power’s share declines further.

“2021 was a good year for solar and wind notwithstanding headwinds such as the COVID pandemic and disruptions in global supply chains,” noted SUN DAY Campaign executive director Ken Bossong. “Together with other renewable energy sources, they built on their growing lead over nuclear power, will likely overtake coal in 2022, and continue to cut into natural gas’s current dominance.”

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