U.S. Renewables Boomed in 2017 Despite Federal, State-Level Uncertainty
Renewable energy’s contribution to U.S. electricity generation doubled to 18% between 2008 and 2017, and the sector employed three million Americans in 2016, according to the 2018 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook produced by the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE) and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
“Reviewing the 2017 data, one quickly sees that advanced energy is booming, despite policy and market uncertainties on federal and state levels,” writes Advanced Energy Economy’s Monique Hanis, in a summary for the Energy Collective blog. The factbook shows renewable energy growing “at a near-record pace of 14%, to 717 terawatt-hours in 2017, with new wind and solar capacity, and a hydropower rebound as Western droughts eased.” Natural gas generation in the U.S. declined 8.1%, although it’s still the country’s biggest source of electricity, accounting for 32% of the total.
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The shift is partly a reflection of plunging solar and wind costs, as “electricity buyers secured renewables at ever cheaper price points,” Hanis notes. The lowest contract prices came in just above $20/MWh for solar, and at an estimated $17/MWh for wind.
The report shows increases in both GDP and energy productivity in 2017, “demonstrating that the U.S. economy can grow even as total energy consumption declines,” she adds. “The U.S. economy advanced 2.3% in 2017 while U.S. total energy consumption dipped 0.2%,” and energy productivity—the amount of energy needed to produce a unit of economic activity—gained 2.5%. “Since 2008, energy usage has shrunk 1.7% as GDP has grown by 15.3%.”
The BCSE and BNEF note that U.S. consumers are devoting the smallest-ever share of their spending to electricity, while businesses increasingly demand cleaner energy and capture gains from boosting the energy efficiency of their operations. “Clean energy deal volumes for offsite [power purchase agreements] rose to 2.9 gigawatts in 2017, the second-highest on record behind the 3.2 GW of new contracts signed in 2015,” Hanis writes.
The report also tracks progress in personal transportation, with automakers unveiling longer-range models of existing hybrid or electric vehicles like the Toyota Prius and the Chevy Bolt, and lithium-ion battery costs falling 23% in a year. EV sales across the U.S. increased by the same 23% margin, to more than 194,000.