With notable exceptions, the United States has lagged behind Europe in the transition to renewable energy. But despite the lack of strong and consistent policy direction at the federal level, the latest numbers from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) show renewable energy not only gaining speed, but getting ready to surpass conventional forms of generation, starting with nuclear power.
According to the latest numbers from DOE’s Energy Information Administration, all sources of renewable energy together provided 20.05% of the nation’s electricity generation, a sliver behind nuclear power’s 20.07% share. And while hydro remains the biggest single source of renewable power, solar contributed 2.0% of electricity generation and wind 7.0% over the six-month time period.
This is a significant increase over the first half of 2016, when renewables represented around 16.8% of electricity generation, with all forms of solar providing only 1.3% of the nation’s power. It also shows sequential progress from the first half of 2015, when renewables were only 14.3%.
Additionally, it is important to note that Q1 2017’s numbers were also boosted by unusually high levels of hydropower. Hydroelectric generation is always higher in the spring, however 2017’s hydro output was boosted by a very wet winter in the Western United States, which has a disproportionate amount of the nation’s hydroelectric plants.
Due to this seasonal nature of hydroelectric generation, it is likely that nuclear will provide more power than renewables throughout the course of 2017. However 2018 may be another matter, and the long-term trend is clear. Wind and solar represent the majority of new electricity generation capacity coming online, and even with bailouts in New York and Illinois the nation’s aging nuclear fleet is slowly shutting down.
As outlined in many studies including the recent DOE grid study, nuclear simply cannot compete with wholesale market prices set by low-cost gas generation, and gas, wind and solar are replacing the coal and nuclear units going offline.