September 12th, 2020 by Zachary Shahan
Following up on our report on US power capacity additions in the first half of 2020, this article covers electricity generation in the first half of 2020. It splits out electricity generation by source. It also compares those numbers to the same electricity generation split in the first half of 2019 and in the first half of 2018. In this first chart below, you can click from Jan–June 2020 (GWh) to Jan–June 2019 (GWh) or Jan–June 2018 (GWh) right underneath the chart title. (If that doesn’t work for you, I recommend trying a computer larger than a phone. Though, the interactive features should also work on smartphones and tablets.)
Electricity Split by Source
The top-line point if you’re interested in renewable energy is that renewables accounted for 22.2% of US electricity in the first half of 2020, 19.9% of US electricity in the first half of 2019, and 19.6% of US electricity in the first half of 2018. Below is a chart of the main electricity sources and how their share of total electricity generation shifted from the first half of 2018 to the first half of 2019 to the first half of 2020.
Again, the two interactive charts directly above should work for you on a smartphone or tablet, but if you are having a problem viewing or interacting with them, I recommend opening this article on a larger computer, like a laptop or desktop computer.
Wind power provided 9.1% of US electricity in the first half of the year, up from 7.7% in the same period of 2019 and 7.1% from the same period of 2018.
Solar power provided 3.4% of US electricity in the first half of the year, up from 2.7% in the same period of 2019 and 2.3% in the same period of 2018. In all cases, large-scale solar PV accounted for about two-thirds of those totals and small-scale solar PV accounted for about one-third. Solar thermal power contributed a minimal amount.
Natural gas saw its share of US electricity production grow to 39.2% in the first half 2020, up from 35.2% and 32.5% in the first half of 2019 and 2018, respectively.
At the same time, coal power saw its share of US electricity production shrink to 16.9% in the first half 2020, down from 23.6% and 26.7% in the first half of 2019 and 2018, respectively.
Those numbers also mean that renewable energy solidly passed up coal in terms of electricity generation in the first half of 2020 (22.2% for renewables versus 16.9% for coal, compared to 19.9% versus 23.6% in the first half of 2019).
Electricity Growth by Source
Electricity from wind power plants grew by 22,114 gigawatt-hours (GWh) in the first 6 months of 2020 versus the first 6 months of 2019. The first 6 months of 2019 was also a bit higher than the first 6 months of 2018 (2,530 GWh higher).
At the same time, electricity from large-scale solar power plants grew by 8,213 GWh and electricity from small-scale solar power plants grew by 3,304 GWh (meaning that together they grew by 11,618 GWh).
All together, electricity from solar and wind grew by 33,732 GWh, but electricity from renewables as a whole grew by only 29,630 GWh due to some other renewable energy sources declining a bit.
Other than renewables, electricity from natural gas grew by 50,700 GWh. As a single source, as you can see in the interactive charts at the top of this article, natural gas is currently the largest source of electricity generation in the country, followed by nuclear power, coal power, wind power, and hydropower. In the chart below, natural gas electricity growth does not look so dramatic because it had such a high starting place in H1 2018, but 50,700 GWh of electricity generation growth in one year is big growth. As indicated right above this section, wind and solar together grew by just 33,732 GWh, and renewable energy as a while grew by even less, 29,630 GWh, because of generation declining from some renewable energy sources.
Electricity from coal power plants declined by a tremendous 145,762 GWh, and electricity from nuclear power dropped by 5,140 GWh. Electricity from petroleum liquids and pet coke dropped by 1,184 GWh. While 50,700 GWh was the largest growth from any single source, coal power’s 145,762 GWh decline dwarfs that. It’s even far more than the growth of natural gas, solar power, and wind power combined (which amounted to 84,432 GWh more electricity generation than in the first half of 2019).
So, that last chart is perhaps the biggest story. Coal power has collapsed in the United States. Donald Trump was supposedly going to “revive” the coal industry, but it has dropped to deep record lows because you simply can’t beat strong market forces (even though the Trump Administration has provided coal companies with financial support and the Environmental Protect Agency, led by a former coal lobbyist, has been allowing more and more coal pollution and dumping of toxic waste).
Coal is dead. It is like a tree that has been cut down. The leaves might still be green, but even they will turn brown and fall off soon. How long until that 16.9% drops to 10%, and then to 6%, and then to 3%. In terms of human health, it will be a wondrous step forward each step of the way, since coal power plants have horrendous human health consequences.
In terms of electricity generation from natural gas versus renewables, we will dive into this topic with several industry experts in coming months to try to better understand not only what is happening in 2020 but also what will happen in 2021, 2022, and onward as the electricity industry continues to evolve. The matter of natural gas versus renewable energy is a fascinating matter that requires looking at the market on a regional level, looking at different types of utilities and utility mandates from regulators and the citizenry, examining operational costs, considering grid interconnections and energy storage, and perhaps even dipping into the electric vehicle world. There are different ways US electricity generation as a whole could evolve depending on actions you, utilities, policymakers, and the private energy development market take. For now, I recommend these 8 stories:
- Solar PV Panels Were 12× More Expensive In 2010, 459× More Expensive In 1977
- The Best Electricity Plan: Overbuild Solar & Wind Power Plants
- 100% WWS Part 1: Jacobson’s New Study Displaces 99.7% Fossil Energy With Massive Savings
- 100% Wind, Water, & Solar Energy Can & Should Be The Goal, Costs Less
- Transitioning the World to 100% Renewable Energy
- Solar Costs & Wind Costs So Low They’re Cheaper Than *Existing* Coal & Nuclear — Lazard LCOE Report
- City of Houston Surprises: 100% Renewable Electricity — $65 Million in Savings in 7 Years
- New Record-Low Solar Price Bid — 1.3¢/kWh
Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.