The Energy Information Agency (EIA) estimates that in 2024 the United States will generate 14% more electricity from solar energy than from hydroelectric power sources.
The EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook identified a pattern of exponential growth in installed solar capacity, with solar-generated electricity outpacing hydroelectric on a monthly basis for the first time in September 2022. Installed solar power capacity has reportedly increased at an average rate of 44% each year, while installed hydroelectric generation increased by less than 1% annually between 2009 and 2022.
Tax credits and other incentives have reportedly led to immense growth in renewable generation capacity, especially for solar and wind power. Wind generation surpassed annual hydropower generation in 2019, showing a similar growth pattern to solar.
Hydropower Faces Challenges, Potential Storage Potential
Meanwhile, hydroelectric power has been limited by weather patterns and challenges with controlling output during high demand — the technology depends on long-term weather trends and faces complications associated with water rights and recreational uses. Wind and solar also experience obstacles during high energy demand that may be resolved with energy storage, but their fast growth in generating energy capacity still largely outweighs this challenge.
Aside from generating energy, pumped storage hydropower has been identified by the Department of Energy as a promising energy storage option for the future, especially as their closed-loop systems would not face the same barriers.
Solar Identified as Affordable Option for Energy Transition, Call to Further Increase Capacity
Solar has seen an 87% drop in cost over the last 10 years, suggesting that the technology may allow for an affordable clean energy transition. The modular quality of solar panels allows for efficient construction and has also made the technology attractive in comparison to large-scale power systems.
In the months leading up to COP28, multiple world leaders and organizations have claimed that renewables capacity will have to triple by 2030 in order to meet Paris Agreement goals.
In 2023, solar capacity in the U.S. totaled over 125 gigawatts, according to the EIA report, and solar is also on course to account for two-thirds of the year’s increase in global renewable power capacity. Based on current growth trends, including increased manufacturing capacity for the renewable energy source worldwide, solar capacity should meet the level of annual demand needed to meet global net-zero goals.