On Oct. 24, Environment America released the fourth iteration of “Renewables on the Rise,” an annual report by Environment America Research & Policy Center. It tells the story of a quiet clean energy revolution across the United States — and reminds us that if we set robust goals to move away from fossil fuels, clean power can exceed our expectations.
What does the report find?
Each year, our “Renewables on the Rise,” report makes plain just how quickly renewable power has been expanding across America over the past two decades. The goal of the report has been to track the growth of five main clean technologies: solar power, wind power, energy efficiency, electric vehicles and battery storage.
Here’s the upshot after four years of research: While we need to move even more boldly toward 100 percent renewable energy to win clean air and a stable climate for kids growing up today, the growth of clean power has already exceeded all expectations, and proved that a clean energy future is possible.
Some key findings of the latest report include:
In 2001, the Department of Energy forecasted that by 2020 America would generate just 1 percent of our electricity from the wind, sun and earth; Today, we’ve beaten that prediction by an order of magnitude: They provide 10 percent of our electricity.
Meanwhile, despite growth in both population and GDP, efficiency improvements have allowed the U.S. to use less energy overall than we did 10 years ago.
Battery storage, critical to keeping a grid powered by renewable energy running at all hours, has grown more than 20-fold in just 10 years.
In 2010, the number of plug-in electric vehicles on our roads numbered in the hundreds. Since then, more than a million have been sold in the U.S.
How have the findings changed over time?
Since the first “Renewables on the Rise” in 2017, renewables have … well, continued to rise.
That is to say: The trends we found in our first report have continued to hold true. Just since we released the 2017 report, for instance, the number of homes that U.S. solar generation could power has increased from 5 million to 16 million. This year, renewable power supplied, on average, over 10 percent of the nation’s electricity needs for the first time.
Something else we’ve observed: renewable energy’s broad appeal. While some might think the growth of renewables is a phenomenon constrained to “blue” states, “Renewables on the Rise” has documented the strong growth of wind and solar in places like Utah, Arizona, Kansas and North Dakota. Today, for instance, Kansas gets more than half its electricity from wind and solar, a greater percentage than in any other state.
As renewables have surged, we’ve also watched cities and states get bolder. By the end of 2019, seven states and Washington, D.C., had committed to a goal of getting 100 percent of their electricity from renewable power. And this year, California became the first state in the nation to set a timeline for banning the sale of new cars powered by fossil fuels — it’ll do so by 2035.
If readers internalize one thing from this report, we hope it’s that we’ve come a long way in a short time, but have a long way to go yet to win a clean energy future.
Even if all states meet their current targets for renewable electricity generation, America will only get a third of its power from renewables by 2050 — far from the 100 percent goal we need to set for ourselves to secure a clean, green and renewable future for kids growing up today.
The way we can get there is by continuing to set bold goals for renewable power. We didn’t get this far by just coasting on advancements in technology; rather, the renewable energy targets that states set for themselves have been critical to the expansion of renewable power in the U.S.
Environment America has been working to help win those state commitments since the very beginning, from the first renewable energy standards passed in the early 2000s up to the recent wave of commitments to 100 percent renewable energy.
Our hope is that future iterations of “Renewables on the Rise” bear witness to even larger gains than the ones we’ve already seen.
Previous years’ reports: