Several reports recently released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) confirm that the mix of renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) significantly out-performed and expanded their lead over nuclear power in 2020.
Renewables accounted for a substantially greater share of the nation’s installed utility-scale generating capacity than did nuclear power. Renewables provided more actual electrical generation than did nuclear power. And renewables accounted for a far larger percentage of total U.S. energy production and consumption than did nuclear power.
Electrical generating capacity of renewable energy is now nearly three times that of nuclear power
According to the FERC’s final monthly “Energy Infrastructure Update” report for 2020 (with data through December 31, 2020), renewable sources collectively accounted for 22,451 MW — or more than three-quarters (78.09%) — of the 28,751-MW of new utility-scale capacity added in 2020. There were no new capacity additions by nuclear power during the year.
Due to such growth, renewable energy sources are accounting for an ever-greater share of the nation’s total available installed generating capacity with each passing year and continue to expand their lead over nuclear power.
For example, in 2010, FERC reported that installed renewable energy generating capacity was 13.71% of the nation’s total. Five years later, it had increased to 17.83%. At the end of 2020, renewable energy sources had soared to 24.06% of the nation’ total available installed generating capacity.
By comparison, ten years ago, nuclear power’s share of total installed operating generation capacity was 9.56%. By 2015, it had declined to 9.16%. In 2020, it fell to 8.57% and remains on a downward trajectory.
In fact, FERC forecasts that the mix of all renewables will add more than 59,308 MW of net new generating capacity to the nation’s total by December 2023 while nuclear power’s operating capacity will actually drop by 4,330 MW, or more than 4% of its current total.
Renewables produced more electricity than nuclear power in 2020
The calendar year 2020 issue of EIA’s “Electric Power Monthly” (with data through December 31, 2020) reveals that renewable energy sources — including distributed solar (e.g., rooftop systems) — collectively provided 20.59% of the country’s total electrical output last year — up from 18.34% a year earlier.
Renewables’ share of U.S. electrical generation in 2020 eclipsed that of nuclear power (19.50%); that is, renewable energy sources produced 5.61% more electricity than did nuclear power whose output actually fell 2.41% during the same twelve-month period.
For perspective, renewable sources accounted for just 10.36% of U.S. electrical generation at the end of 2010 and 13.65% at the end of 2015. Thus, renewables have doubled their share of the nation’s electrical generation over the past decade. By comparison, nuclear power’s share has remained largely unchanged — 19.6% in 2010 and 19.4% in 2015.
Further, last year, utility-scale renewables provided more electricity than nuclear power in 29 states plus Washington D.C. Of those, 21 states as well as Washington D.C. produced zero electricity using nuclear power during the year.  AK, CA, CO, DC, DE, IA, ID, IN, HI, KS, KY, MA, ME, MN, MT, ND, NE, NM, NV, NY, OK, OR, RI, SD, TX, UT, VT, WA, WV, WY AK, CO, DC, DE, ID, HI, IN, KY, MA, ME, MT, ND, NM, NV, OK, OR, RI, SD, UT, VT, WV, WY
Renewables provided a far greater share of U.S. energy production and use in 2020 than did nuclear power
According to the latest issue of EIA’s “Monthly Energy Review” (with data through December 31, 2020), renewable energy sources (i.e., biofuels, biomass, hydropower, geothermal, solar, wind) provided 12.29% of domestic energy production and 12.47% of domestic energy consumption during 2020.
Meanwhile, nuclear power accounted for 8.61% of U.S. energy production and 8.87% of domestic energy consumption.
In total, in 2020, renewable sources produced 42.74% more energy than did nuclear power. And the difference appears to be widening. Renewable sources produced 2.14% more energy in 2020 than they did in 2019 while nuclear power’s output dropped by 2.41% year-over-year.
For perspective, in 2010, renewables were 11.10% of domestic production and 8.48% of consumption. Five years later, renewable sources accounted for 11.02% of production and 9.98% of consumption.
By comparison, nuclear power was 11.26% of production and 8.65% of energy consumption in 2010. By 2015, it had dropped to 9.45% of production and 8.56% of consumption. In fact, 2010 was the last year in which nuclear power provided more energy than did renewable energy sources.
“While precise, near-term forecasts for renewables versus nuclear power are subject to a number of variables, it is safe to conclude that renewable energy sources have overtaken nuclear, and that the margin will continue to widen in the years to come,” observed Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “Moreover, that conclusion is based on the federal government’s own figures which have historically proven conservative and underestimated growth by renewables.”
FERC’s 7-page “Energy Infrastructure Update for December 2020” was released on February 8, 2021. It can be found at https://www.ferc.gov; open the link “Industries and Data,” then follow to “FERC Staff Reports and Papers,” and then to “Energy Infrastructure.” For the information cited in this update, see the tables entitled “New Generation In-Service (New Build and Expansion),” “Total Available Installed Generating Capacity,” and “Generation Capacity Additions and Retirements.”
The U.S. Energy Information Administration issued its “Electric Power Monthly” report for calendar year 2020 on February 24, 2021. It may be found at: https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly (see February 2021 under “Previous Issues”)
The electricity data cited in this update can be found at, or extrapolated from, Tables ES1.A and ES1.B.
State-by-state data for individual energy sources can be found in Tables 1.4A – 1.18B.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration issued its “Monthly Energy Review” report with calendar year 2020 data on March 25, 2021. It may be found at: https://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/monthly. See Table 1.1 for the data cited in this update.
News item from the Sun Day Campaign
Some very specific language in this article to argue against Nuclear and for Wind and Solar power sources. Lots of talk of capacity instead of actual generated power. I hate this type of reporting. It misses the big point that wind, solar, and nuclear generate 0 carbon. We need them all.
Please separate the fraction on “remewables” that are wind and solar from the fraction that is burning biofuel which is NOT carbon neutral. According to the EIA, for 2019, 43% of the 11% of energy production listef as renewables were burning biological material. Wind and solar accounted for 24% and 9% of that 11% respectively. So solar was 1% of the total energy production (notice that I didn’t say electricity production). Whereas nuclear was 8% of the total US energy production.
James E Hopf says
I gotta ask. Why the focus on (and trashing of) nuclear, another non-emitting source? Why not focus on fossil fuels, which are the real enemy (if you care about climate and public health, anyway)? Recent data shows that nuclear exceeded coal in the US for the first time ever. Coal historically being the largest generation source of all. And since renewables sources (combined) are slightly greater than nuclear now, which this article pointed out ad nauseum, it means that renewables have also just passed coal in the US. Why not talk about, and celebrate, that?
This competitive/antagonistic mindset between clean sources has got to stop, if we are going to quickly and effectively address global warming. We’re all in it together and there is no shortage of fossil fueled generation to replace. What is the point, or motivation, of this article?
This makes no more sense than article talking about how great one renewable source is doing relative to others. This being a solar site, why didn’t this article talk about solar’s growth rate compared to wind, or hydro?? Also, before suggesting that nuclear is pathetic relative to renewables, perhaps you should compare nuclear to individual renewable sources, as opposed to lumping all the renewable sources (including long-existing hydro) together?
Articles like this leave the impression that renewables advocates hate nuclear most of all, even more than fossil fuels (which are thousands of times as dangerous and harmful). It suggests that such “environmentalists” actually cheer the closure of nuclear plants, and would actually like to see renewables replace nuclear, as opposed to replacing fossil generation. This has to stop. Given the seriousness of global warming, it should be clear to everyone that renewables must be used to replace fossil fuels, as opposed to other non-emitting sources like nuclear.
“For example, in 2010, FERC reported that installed renewable energy generating capacity was 13.71% of the nation’s total. Five years later, it had increased to 17.83%. At the end of 2020, renewable energy sources had soared to 24.06% of the nation’ total available installed generating capacity.”
The percentages are only a part of the overall equation. We also know solar PV and wind generation resources are intermittent, with the latest/greatest weather predicting algorithms with satellite sensor back up of predictions, one can predict with some statistically valid results that can help in a day ahead market across the U.S.. The way utilities are “running their grids” is using solar PV and or wind like a Peaker plant and running this asset a few hours, when there are times the utility curtails the asset and “makes up” generation with fueled generation resources at premium prices on the spot market. The most inefficient generation operation is what utilities use to control the electricity costs and assure revenue streams even during the “duck curve” of the day.
Nuclear generation is the technology of the “baseload” generation concept of the past where it has been engineered that baseload has been provided by nuclear generation in a region and coal fired generation has been “kept online” as spinning reserves as the de-facto grid operations model. Coal is not economical and has decreased some 30% over 20 years and natural gas is taking over as the “go to” fueled generation resource for demand response. Switch fuels, same operations mode, same inefficient results.
In places like Australia it has been (proven) a relatively small energy storage unit can allow something like the intermittent wind farm owned by Neoen (can) be used as dispatchable generation without any fueled generation online. Just a simple search: “Australia Loy Yang coal plant fails offline, wind and energy storage keeps the grid from failing.”, gives several results on past failures of fueled coal and backup by “intermittent” as the emergency fall back. Proper analysis and construction of ESS units locally and regionally are the resiliency needed for a more robust grid. If the utilities won’t do this, the consumers can adopt the technology and do this at their end.