Blog from Jane Marsh: The first half of 2022 marked by renewables generating over 25% of electricity in the US

A shift toward renewable power is more evident than ever amid calls to reduce energy consumption and bolster energy security in the United States.

According to recorded data by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), energy from sun, wind and heat resources enabled a 25% increase in electricity generation in 2022 — a feat the U.S. has strived to achieve for decades.

The increase in renewable energy resulted from new wind and solar plants going online. The EIA report indicated a 26.6% increase for wind power electricity generation and a 34.4% change for solar.

The gains witnessed in the changing energy economy are noteworthy — however, the U.S. must continue deploying renewables to maintain momentum over time.

A Long Road to Clean Energy

The path toward renewable energy has been long and winding. Despite 70% of Americans agreeing the U.S. should rely solely on renewable energy in the future, the transition from dirty fuels — marred by cost, weak infrastructure, higher power demand and political turmoil — is still in its infancy.

The global power demand is expected to increase by 100 gigawatts as the pandemic-plagued world awakens and economies start their recovery — far quicker than the renewable supply of 35 gigawatts in the same timeframe.

Today’s U.S. energy economy is far more diverse than throughout history. Until the mid-to-late-1800s, wood burning and water mills were essential to powering early industrial growth. However, coal mines, petroleum refineries and natural gas soon became the norm in the late 19th century.

Coal production has dipped to its lowest generation in 30 years at 13%. However, fossil fuels still collectively dominate the U.S. energy sector and political realm, making it harder to move away from nonrenewables to cleaner energy sources.

Research also shows that oil and gas companies invest more campaign money in legislators who vote against environmental policies that would otherwise hinder fossil fuel market growth. For instance, oil and gas companies contributed an additional $5,400 to campaigns in the 2016 election if the legislator voted against the environment 10% of the time.

However, despite lobbyists influencing political votes, the more than 2 million solar installations on residential, commercial and utility properties now generate enough electricity to power 12 million homes — a substantial boost for residential electricity capacity.

Meanwhile, the domestic expansion of wind power provides enough energy for 40 million U.S. households. That makes it one of the most crucial renewable energy sources that support President Joe Biden’s goal of running on 100% clean electricity by 2035.

Today’s Renewable Energy Marks a Critical Transition

The average American uses nearly 150 million British Thermal Units (Btu) annually, equal to 165,000 sticks of dynamite. Combine the entire U.S. population’s energy consumption, and you end up with a lot of power demand.

Although only 25% of U.S. electricity comes from renewables, it marks a pivot in the right direction toward cleaner energy.

Since President Biden took office, the U.S. has invested $100 billion in domestic electric vehicles (EV) manufacturing and production of EV batteries. Recently, a series of executive actions aimed to increase domestic manufacturing in renewable energy technologies. The order authorizes the Defense Production Act (DPA) to accelerate developments to expand the production of:

  • Photovoltaic modules and components for solar panels
  • Better commercial insulation
  • Installation of heat pumps for more energy-efficient heating and cooling
  • Equipment production — fuel cells, metals and electrolyzers — for materials used to make cleaner fuels
  • Improvements to crumbling power grid infrastructure

The initiative will create jobs for Americans in the green sector with widespread benefits for communities and lower-income populations. However, increasing renewables will generate more than just electricity — it’ll also help protect U.S. energy security and create a more energy-independent economy.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the U.S. energy infrastructure is at critical risk of disruptions from natural disasters, cybersecurity attacks, geopolitical conflicts, fuel inflation and increasing climate change impacts.

Following Russia’s major malware attack on Ukraine’s national grid in 2015, operators found 10 U.S. utility plant systems containing the malicious malware, followed by months of trying to scrub the systems clean.

The U.S. can avoid these security threats and prevent electricity distribution disruptions by becoming more energy independent with renewables.

Future of Renewable Energy Generation in the U.S.

The current state of renewable power generation is celebratory after the long road to get here. Nevertheless, if the U.S. hopes to meet its climate change goals and become an energy-secure nation, it must continue to heed its commitment to renewable developments.

 

About the author: Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co

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