In 2020, renewable energy generated a record 834 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, accounting for 21% of the United States’ total energy production. It also meant for the first time in history, green energy outpaced nuclear (790 billion kWh) and coal (774 billion kWh) energy production in the United States.

Natural gas remained the top source of energy production in the U.S. with 40% of the total generation, with only a slight decline from 2019 to 2020.

What is renewable energy?

Renewable energy, often referred to a “clean energy” or “green energy”, involves the production of energy from natural processes that are in constant supply. This includes wind, hydroelectric (water), solar (sunlight), biomass (organic material) and geothermal energy (Earth’s heat).

This differs from “nonrenewable energy” like oil, gas and coal, which are only available in limited amounts and only found in specific regions of the world. The burning of these fossil fuels are also linked to harmful health effects and the emission of greenhouse gases, the main culprit in the ongoing climate crisis.

While the new technology initially faced criticism for being expensive and hard to transport, recent innovations have allowed renewable energy to become a more attractive option for households, businesses and major industries.

The ups and downs of coal

Coal-fired energy production peaked in 2007 at at 2,016 billion kWh… but recently has been replaced by natural gas-fired generation. Between 2019 and 2020, electricity generation from coal declined 20%.

However, energy forecasters expect coal to become more of a player in 2021 as natural gas becomes more expensive, and by comparison, coal returns to a more economically attractive option.

IN-DEPTH: U.S. energy production in 2020 by the numbers (comparison to 2019)

  • Solar (small-scale – ex. rooftop panels): increased 19%
  • Solar (utility-scale – ex. projects greater than 1 MW): increased 26%
  • Wind: increased 14%
  • Nuclear: declined 2%
  • Natural gas: declined <2%

For more information, visit the U.S. Energy Administration website.