Electricity from Renewables Exceeded Expectations in 2021, EIA Data Show

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by | Feb 28, 2022

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The amount of electricity generated in the US by renewable energy in 2021 surpassed the Energy Information Administration’s forecast, driven by growth in solar and wind, according to recent data.

Throughout 2021, the EIA regularly predicted renewables would supply a 20% share of the US’s electricity needs for the year. The SUN DAY campaign, a renewable energy advocacy nonprofit, analyzed EIA data and found that renewables slightly exceeded that expectation, accounting for 21.02% of total U.S. electrical generation in 2021.

Solar powered electricity, including distributed rooftop systems, increased by more than 25% in 2021, making it the nation’s fastest growing source of electricity last year. Wind also grew by double digits, increasing by more than 12% relative to 2020. Combined, the two sources accounted for 13.05% of electrical generation, with solar and wind supplying about 4% and 9%, respectively.

In addition to wind and solar, energy sources that fall under the “renewables” category include biomass, geothermal and hydropower. Electricity from geothermal sources rose by 2.19% while electricity from wood and other biomass increased by 1.42%. Together, generation by all non-hydro renewables grew by 14.08%.

Due to severe drought conditions during the year, hydropower, which has historically been the US’s largest renewable electricity source, supplied nearly 9% less electricity in 2021 compared to 2020. However, hydro seems poised to rebound in 2022, having increased its output by 19.26% in December 2021 compared to December 2020.

Renewable sources also continued to supply more electricity than nuclear power, which accounted for 18.7% of electricity generation. Natural gas remained the top source of US electrical generation at approximately 38% of the total — down from 40% a year ago. Coal regained ground, coming in second place with a 21.5% share — a 16% increase compared to 2020.

The EIA expects renewables to experience consistent growth as a percentage of the total electricity supply in the coming years, rising to 22% in 2022 and 24% in 2023.

“2021 was a good year for solar and wind notwithstanding headwinds such as the Covid pandemic and disruptions in global supply chains,” noted the SUN DAY Campaign’s 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.”

Last month, the SUN DAY Campaign reported that renewables are now adding more than 2,250 megawatts of new generating capacity each month.

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