Skip to main content

U.S. added record amount of wind, solar capacity to grid in 2020—BNEF

February 19, 2021

Greentech Media:

Amid a historic economic contraction, renewable resources grew to account for one-fifth of all electricity produced in the U.S. in 2020, according to newly released data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, a coalition of clean energy, utility and natural gas companies.

Record-breaking wind and solar additions brought zero-carbon resources — which also include hydro and nuclear — to 40 percent of the 2020 electricity mix in the United States. Analysts heralded the growth as an indicator of these sectors’ resilience, in contrast to continued declines in coal power and the first drop in natural-gas demand since the Great Recession in 2009.

“It was a year of records but also resilience,” said Ethan Zindler, head of Americas research at BloombergNEF at an event highlighting the report. “I’ll be candid in saying [that] about halfway through the year, things looked pretty dire.”

In the end, those struggles did not mute overall growth. BloombergNEF’s data showed a record year for U.S. solar installations, landing at 16.5 gigawatts. The previous record, set in 2016, was 14.4 gigawatts. Wood Mackenzie, another energy consultancy, puts the figure even higher for solar installations in 2020, at more than 19 gigawatts of solar added (different analysis firms log a project at different points in their development).

The same record trend holds for wind; the industry added more than 17 gigawatts, according to BloombergNEF. Taken together, renewable additions grew 11 percent from the year prior.

Natural-gas additions have helped the U.S. power sector shed coal capacity, said BloombergNEF’s Zindler. But as the next phase of decarbonizing electricity begins, it remains “an open question” how swiftly power providers can and will be willing to cut gas in favor of clean renewables, and if the sector can decarbonize within the timeframe Biden has laid out. “I think it’s going to be one of the great, interesting challenges of the next four years and beyond,” said Zindler.

[Emma Foehringer Merchant]

More: Wind and solar defied the 2020 economic contraction in the U.S.

Join our newsletter

Keep up to date with all the latest from IEEFA