By Isabella O’Malley | Associated Press
Electricity generated from renewable energy sources surpassed coal in the United States for the first time in 2022, the U.S. Energy Information Administration announced Monday.
Renewables also surpassed nuclear power generation by 2022, having done so for the first time last year.
The growth of wind and solar power has significantly spurred the increase in renewable energy, contributing to 14% of domestically produced electricity by 2022.
“I’m glad to see we’ve crossed that threshold, but that’s just one step in what should be a very fast and much cheaper journey,” said Stephen Porder, a professor of ecology and assistant provost for sustainability at Brown University. . .
California produced 26% of the national utility-scale solar power, followed by Texas at 16% and North Carolina at 8%.
Most wind generation was in Texas, which accounted for 26% of the U.S. total, followed by Iowa (10%) and Oklahoma (9%).
“This explosive growth is largely driven by economics,” said Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy. “Over the past decade, the levelized cost of wind power has fallen by 70 percent, while the levelized cost of solar power has fallen by an even more impressive 90 percent.”
“Renewable energy is now the most affordable source of new electricity in much of the country,” Wetstone added.
The Energy Information Administration projected that wind’s share of the U.S. electricity generation mix will increase from 11% to 12% between 2022 and 2023, and that solar will grow from 4% to 5% over that period. The natural gas share is expected to remain at 39% between 2022 and 2023 and coal is expected to fall from 20% last year to 17% this year.
“Wind and solar power will become the backbone of renewable energy growth, but whether or not they can provide 100% of America’s electricity without backup is something engineers are debating,” according to Brown University’s Porder.
Many decisions lie ahead, he said, as the share of renewable energy sources supplying the energy grid increases.
This poses challenges to engineers and policymakers, Porder said, because existing energy networks are built to provide power from a consistent source. Renewable energy sources such as solar and wind generate electricity intermittently. So battery storage, long-distance transmission and other steps will be needed to overcome these challenges, he said.
The EIA report found that the country remains heavily dependent on the burning of climate-changing fossil fuels. In 2022, 20% of the electricity industry came from coal-fired generation, down from 23% in 2021. Natural gas was the largest source of electricity in the US in 2022, generating 39% last year compared to 37% in 2021.
“If you look at the data, natural gas has been a major driver of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electricity because it has largely replaced coal-fired power plants,” said Melissa Lott, research director for the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.
“As we move forward, emissions can’t keep rising, you have to reduce them quickly,” Lott added.
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) has affected the number of renewable energy projects going online in 2022, Lott said, and is expected to have a “massive” impact on accelerating clean energy projects.