In 2020, renewable energy sources (including solar, wind, hydroelectric, biomass, and geothermal energy) generated a record 834 billion kWh of electricity, or about 21% of all the electricity generated in the United States.
Only natural gas (1,617 billion kWh) produced more electricity than renewables in the United States in 2020, according to the Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration (EIA). Renewables surpassed both nuclear (790 billion kWh) and coal (774 billion kWh) for the first time. EIA said this outcome was due mostly to “significantly less coal use” in U.S. electricity generation and steadily increased use of solar and wind.
U.S. electricity generation from coal in all sectors declined 20% from 2019, while renewables, including small-scale solar, increased 9%. Wind, currently the most prevalent source of renewable electricity in the United States, grew 14% in 2020 from 2019. Utility-scale solar generation (from projects greater than 1 MW) increased 26%, and small-scale solar, such as grid-connected rooftop solar panels, increased 19%.
Favorable economics will likely result in coal retaking its second-place spot in 2021, EIA said. Renewables are again forecast to eclipse coal in 2022 as capacity grows and coal’s cost advantage eases.