WASHINGTON — Just how fast is the U.S. clean energy revolution unfolding? America’s 2016 solar energy capacity was 4,500 percent higher than government experts predicted 10 years earlier while the nation’s wind supply was 350 percent above their forecast, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) report released today.
NRDC’s fifth annual energy report, America’s Clean Energy Revolution, confirms the massive shifts in the nation’s energy landscape, dominated by clean energy progress, both with records shattered in the past year and a half and from what the U.S. Energy Information (EIA) projected a decade earlier.
“America’s clean energy revolution proves that we don’t have to choose between the environment and a booming economy,” said Amanda Levin, report co-author and NRDC clean energy advocate. “Clean energy not only cuts pollution, it’s also one of the fast-growing areas for U.S. jobs and contributes billions to our nation’s economy annually.
“When you look at how clean energy development has exploded beyond official government projections from just 10 years ago, it offers hope that its potential will continue to far surpass expectations and we’ll meet our U.S. climate goals,” she said.
The NRDC report shows the EIA in 2006:
- Misjudged the huge increases in solar power, forecasting less than 1 gigawatt (GW) of installed solar by 2016 when the total was 46 times that amount, and no more than 18 GW of wind power, when it reached 82 GW – a nearly five-fold increase.
- Overestimated the 2016 level of carbon dioxide pollution, which at 5.17 billion tons was 25 percent, or 1.67 billion tons, lower than forecasted.
- Misread the rise of energy efficiency, which contributed to keeping U.S. energy consumption at 96.5 quads of energy, 17 percent below EIA’s projection of 115.6 quads.
- Did not anticipate the demise of coal-fired power, which dropped 45 percent from the projected level of 2,235 terawatt hours (TWh) to 1,240 TWh.
In short, America’s clean energy revolution has taken root far more than expected and all signs point to continued growth.
“Dozens of clean energy records have been shattered across the United States in the last year and a half. And despite some new political headwinds, ever-improving economics will propel the clean energy transition in the years to come,” said co-author Ralph Cavanagh, co-director of NRDC’s energy program.
Other key findings in NRDC’s annual report:
- For the first time since 1960, the average U.S. household spent less than 4 percent of its income on all energy in 2016—including gasoline and electricity spending—despite the much larger number of electronic gadgets and appliances we now use.
- The U.S. economy grew by 17 percent between 2005 and 2016 while carbon dioxide emissions fell by 14 percent and energy use remained flat. This is in large part due to energy efficiency, the most productive and cost-effective way to meet U.S. energy needs.
- Renewable energy grew to 14 percent of total U.S. electricity sales in 2016, with wind and solar amounting to 8 percent and hydropower and geothermal accounting for the other 6 percent. More than 14 GW of solar capacity was added in 2016 — almost double the record-breaking new amount in 2015. And for the first time in U.S. history, wind and solar energy made up more than 10 percent of all monthly electricity generation.
The report can be found at https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/energy-environment-report-2017.pdf
The co-authors have posted a related blog at: https://www.nrdc.org/experts/amanda-levin/clean-energy-momentum-remains-strong-despite-federal-changes
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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago; Bozeman, Montana; and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.