According to data released today by the Energy Information Agency (EIA), renewable energy through the first four months of 2016, including rooftop solar, provided 17.6% of electricity generated in the United States. In all of 2015, that number was 13.7%.
Coal-fired power is down 23% thus far this year, after dropping 14% between 2014 and 2015. Petroleum power (a very small percentage of power generation in the U.S.) is down by a third. Natural gas-fired power generation is only up by about 7%.
Nuclear power is up by about 2%, which will rise more due to the new nuclear reactor fired up this month in Tennessee. However, the longer-term trend for nuclear power looks bleak, with facilities in Illinois, Nebraska, and New York recently announced to close this decade.
Renewable energy is clearly taking over — and fast. Skeptics believed it couldn’t be done, but they were wrong. Instead, wind power is at 6.4% of U.S. electric power so far this year, compared to 1.8% in 2009. Solar is close to 1%, and these numbers are through April, so not the sunniest months. Solar will likely eclipse 1% this year. In 2009, solar was less than 1/10th of 1%.
California has been ground zero for change. In April alone, California generated 15% of its power from solar energy. The state, which is trying to reach 50% renewable energy by 2030, actually exceeded 50% renewable energy during the month of April 2016! While hydro had a big role in that, this signals the potential for the future to meet incredible goals once thought impossible.
Wind power continues to boom. In Iowa, thus far this year, wind power has made up 44% of electric generation. By the end of 2016, Iowa is expected to become the first state ever to generate a majority of its electric generation from wind. Kansas is close behind, generating a third of its power from the wind, almost as much as from coal. Oklahoma is now almost 29% wind. Texas thus far is generating 15% of its power from the wind in 2016.
Hydroelectric power is growing as well, with El Niño helping California boost power from its waterways. The Pacific Northwest has started off strong, and will have a great year. Virginia and the Carolinas, as well as Georgia, have had strong hydroelectric power production thus far in 2016.
Virginia hasn’t been a renewable energy powerhouse, but with wind and solar farms under construction, and biomass power increasing, things are starting to turn around. North Carolina was over 3% solar energy in April, expected to increase during the summer months. A wind farm is also being built in North Carolina. Virginia can learn from its southern neighbor.
For all those who criticize the incrementalism of the U.S., and think we aren’t able to change, take a look at the numbers. This change was set into motion by the Obama Administration, with commitments by Hillary Clinton to continue the trend. In stark contrast, Donald Trump and the GOP are still holding campaign events with coal miners screaming about the supposed “war” on their jobs. But the fact is, the U.S. is simply moving on to 21st-century technologies, and not even the Koch brothers can stop the inevitable. This will be perhaps one of the greatest legacies of the Obama Administration, and proof that even in the face of great obstacles from political rivals, progressive energy policies can succeed.