U.S. clean energy sectors showed strong resilience in 2020

clean energy performance in 2020

The U.S. clean energy sectors showed strong resilience in 2020 despite COVID-19 pandemic and sharp economic contraction, BloombergNEF (BNEF) and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE) said in their annual report.

The economic disruption caused 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.

Natural gas and renewable generation expanded their share of the resource mix. A record 33.6 GW of wind and solar capacity was added to the grid this year.

Power Generation

Renewables’ contribution to the power grid set another record, rising 11 percent year-on-year. Renewable energy generated a fifth of U.S. 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.

Natural gas remained the largest source of U.S. power generation at 41 percent, though its 2019-2020 growth was slower than 2018-19.

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 33.6GW of wind and solar combined was built. Records were also set for each individual technology. Wind enjoyed its strongest year ever with 17.1GW constructed while solar bested its previous 2016 high with 16.5GW completed.

Emissions

U.S. emissions dropped 9 percent to end 2020 20 percent below 2005 levels as result of the pandemic.

CO2 emissions from road, rail, and aviation fell furthest (-14 percent) but transportation remains the highest emitting sector. Lower travel rates were responsible for the decline.

Demand

U.S. energy productivity (GDP / total energy consumption) rose, but not primarily for positive reasons as economic hardship prompted many consumers to cut back consumption.

Natural gas demand dipped 0.8 percent, the first decline since 2009. Power sector demand and exports rose but industrial, commercial and residential demand all fell.

Corporate and Sub-National Action

Corporate decarbonization commitments grew. 65 companies joined the RE100 initiative to expand renewables use, 59 joined EP100 pledging to improve energy productivity.

Companies signed fewer contracts in 2020 to buy clean power. Corporate power purchase agreements (PPA) for wind/solar slowed to 11.9GW due to pandemic worries.

26 states had acted to promote the use of renewable natural gas for thermal heating in homes and businesses.