Record 33.6 GW of Wind and Solar Capacity Added to US Grid in 2020: BNEF

A new report has found that in a year faced with COVID-19, a record 33.6 GW of wind and solar capacity was added to the US grid in 2020.

Faced with the COVID-19 pandemic and sharp economic contraction, the US clean energy sectors showed strong resilience in 2020, continuing a decade-long growth trend, BloombergNEF (BNEF) and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE) find in their annual joint report. The ninth edition of the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook tells the story of American energy efficiency, natural gas and renewable energy in a volatile year, finding that a record 33.6 GW of wind and solar capacity was added to the grid in 2020.

“In a year when so much went sideways, it was a blockbuster year for renewable energy build and for the first time, a record 40 percent of US power consumed generated no CO2 emissions,” said Ethan Zindler, BloombergNEF’s head of Americas. “Decarbonisation of US energy accelerated in 2020 and the benefits will be felt for years to come.”

The report found that the economic disruption caused a massive drop in national greenhouse gas emissions. Energy demand for electricity and transportation fell by 3.8 percent and 14.4 percent, respectively, supporting the 9 percent year-on-year decline in harmful greenhouse gas emissions for the United States. This all in emissions is the most significant on record and puts the United States on track to meet its 2025 Paris Agreement commitment, though energy demand and emissions are expected to rebound with widespread vaccinations in 2021.

It detailed that the impacts of cleaner electricity generation will persist. As the report showed how natural gas and renewable generation continued to expand their share of the resource mix.

“The continued growth of clean energy in the United States, in spite of the economic downturn and the challenges of the pandemic, demonstrates that the market for these technologies is maturing and the portfolio is highly resilient,” said Lisa Jacobson, BCSE President. “Global supply chain disruptions, workforce protection measures, and policy uncertainty required adaptation across the industry. The strength of these businesses kept the lights on and houses warm in America, and supported communities during an unprecedented crisis, all while we continued to build cleaner resources.”

Key Highlights:

  • Renewables’ contribution to the power grid set another record, rising 11 percent year-on-year. Renewable energy generated a fifth of US power in 2020. 
  • Power from all zero-carbon sources (renewables plus nuclear power) set another record, meeting 40 percent of demand. This was despite a decline in nuclear output.
  • Coal-fired power’s contribution slipped to 19 percent from 45 percent a decade ago on weak demand and competition for lower-carbon power sources. Coal plants continued to retire rapidly.
  • A record 33.6 GW of wind and solar combined was built. Records were also set for each individual technology. Wind enjoyed its strongest year ever with 17.1 GW constructed while solar bested its previous 2016 high with 16.5 GW completed.
  • Companies signed fewer contracts in 2020 to buy clean power. Corporate power purchase agreements (PPA) for wind/solar slowed to 11.9 GW due to pandemic worries.

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Ayush Verma

Ayush Verma

Ayush is a staff writer at saurenergy.com and writes on renewable energy with a special focus on solar and wind. Prior to this, as an engineering graduate trying to find his niche in the energy journalism segment, he worked as a correspondent for iamrenew.com.

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