Revolution Now

Clean, low-cost energy is transforming the U.S. economy. 

The Future Is Here For Clean Energy Technology

Clean, low-cost energy is transforming the U.S. economy. Over the past decade, we’ve seen the payoff from nearly 45 years of federally funded research and development on clean energy. From wind and solar power to electric vehicles and LED lighting, clean energy technologies are dramatically declining in cost and benefitting more homes and businesses—while reducing pollution and creating millions of new American jobs.1 Clean energy is delivering solutions to help us meet important federal health and environmental safeguards in an increasingly affordable way. To continue the progress, we need massive federal investments in U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) research and development (R&D), demonstration and deployment programs, as well as performance standards to drive the adoption of innovative technologies.

Move your cursor over the charts below to see how wind, solar, LED lighting, and electric vehicles are making cleaner, cheaper, and more effective energy solutions available to more Americans. Unimaginable future breakthroughs are possible with sustained funding for R&D—which is why it’s so important to maintain the innovation budget at the DOE. It is also critical to strengthen limits on the carbon pollution that drives climate change, which will provide a clear signal to businesses to further invest in clean energy solutions.


Large wind farms have been around for more than 40 years, but only recently has the cost of wind power declined enough to support significant capacity. Since 2008, the average price of wind energy has dropped by 74 percent, reaching a record low in 2018. As the technology becomes better and cheaper, more utilities are installing wind farms and purchasing more wind power. Nationwide wind capacity grew from 25 gigawatts (GW) in 2008 to more than 105 GW in 2019—enough to power more than 32 million U.S. homes.2 This makes wind power the third-largest source of electricity generation capacity in the U.S.3

This dramatic increase in wind capacity would not have been possible without technology advancements that resulted from federal investment in R&D. From the 1980s to 2018, the height of wind turbines in the U.S. increased fourfold (from 66 feet to 289 feet) and the blade length grew fivefold (33 feet to 190 feet), allowing each turbine to capture more energy.4 These technological feats—and their associated benefits—were funded in part by the $3 billion that the DOE invested in wind R&D between 1976 and 2020.5 Further R&D investment—in innovations such as even taller wind turbines, advanced control systems, and offshore wind turbine technologies—will continue to lower costs, increase efficiency, and allow us to take even greater advantage of our vast domestic wind resources.

Wind prices represent the capacity-weighted average levelized price of power purchase agreements for a given year. They include the effect of the production tax credit.
Source: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.6


In little more than a decade, solar technology has evolved from running our calculators to producing enough electricity to power more than 17.7 million U.S. homes.7 This exciting growth—the fastest of any generating technology—has been possible because of dramatic cost declines.

The solar industry supports a vibrant clean energy economy, with 380,000 Americans employed full- and part-time. Of that, there were 175,000 full-time workers in the distributed (on-site) solar sector and another 84,000 working on utility-scale solar energy in 2019.8 Continued R&D investment—in areas such as cutting-edge, high-performance solar cells and grid integration tools—will lower costs further while increasing efficiency and reliability, bringing this clean resource to even more Americans.

Utility-Scale Solar

The cost of installing giant solar farms that can generate enough electricity to be delivered by utilities decreased by 82 percent from 2008 to 2019. In late 2017, the DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) announced that it had already met its 2020 goal for cost reductions in utility-scale projects—three years early.9 SETO is now working toward its 2030 goals to address grid reliability, financing, and grid integration while continuing to lower solar costs and grow the solar industry.10

Distributed Solar

A similar trend of plummeting costs has driven the expansion of distributed solar systems, which generate electricity for local homes and businesses either through rooftop solar panels or via community projects that provide power to entire neighborhoods. Costs to install these smaller-scale solar systems have been cut by 82 percent since 2008, enabling a 40-fold increase in adoption by 2019.

Distributed prices shown are for residential systems. Prices for commercial and industrial projects are similar.
Source: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.11,12

LED Lighting

LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs were barely on the radar in 2009, when only 400,000 of them were installed nationwide. By 2018, more than 1.1 billion LED bulbs had been installed in light sockets across America—nearly double the installations from the previous year and a 3,000-fold increase from 2009. LEDs are now a no-brainer. Not only has their price dropped by 95 percent since 2008, but their energy usage is typically 75 to 80 percent lower than equivalent incandescent bulbs, with the best bulbs saving even more.13 That means big electric bill savings for American families.

Further R&D will make LEDs cheaper and more efficient and will also push other lighting technology, such as organic LEDs that create the potential for ultrathin, ultrabright, and potentially even foldable lighting.

Sources: Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy.14,15,16

Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicles (EVs) are charging into America’s car market in a big way. In 2019, more than 320,000 EVs were sold, bringing the total number on U.S. roads to more than 1.4 million. Advancements in EV technology have come in many forms—such as better drive trains, lighter materials, and improved charging—but the limiting factor for growth has been battery costs. Federal research has helped bring down the price of lithium-ion batteries by 86 percent since 2010, a feat that has enabled the EV industry to expand.

Future R&D will continue to drive down costs while increasing efficiency and range. These advancements will make EVs accessible to an increasing number of Americans, saving drivers money and reducing emissions in the transportation sector, America's largest source of climate pollution.

Sources: Electric Drive Transportation Association, Bloomberg New Energy Finance.17, 18, 19, 20, 21

Join the Revolution

Join us in spreading the word about the amazing success of federal energy R&D investments and in supporting increased funding for future clean energy breakthroughs. Five years ago, the DOE discontinued the Revolution Now reports, which it had been published annually from 2013 to 2016 to document the success of major clean energy technologies.22 NRDC decided to continue this work, using the same public data sources.

Download images of the charts by clicking the link beneath each one or download the full data set. If sharing the charts on social media or in your own material, please credit NRDC and link to

If you have an idea for a better data set for these or other clean energy technologies, let us know!



1 National Association of State Energy Officials and Energy Futures Initiative, “2020 U.S. Energy & Employment Report

2 American Clean Power, “Wind Powers America Annual Report,” April 16, 2020

3 American Clean Power, “Wind Power Facts,” 2021

4 DOE Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “Wind Energy Grows Up,” May 20, 2019

5 The data for 1976–2014 were published in the 2016 Revolution…Now report, and the data for 2015–2020 come from past federal budgets. The numbers were adjusted to 2020 dollars using the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis GDP Budget Deflator.

6 Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, DOE Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy “2019 Wind Technology Data & Technology Trends,” figures 1 and 47. Note: We made a simple unit conversion in the wind prices.

7 Solar Energy Industries Association, “What’s In a Megawatt?” 2020.

8 The National Association of State Energy Officials and Energy Futures Initiative report that there are 284,034 full-time and 97,359 part-time workers in the solar industry; of the full-time workers, 29.5 percent are in utility-scale solar and 70.5 percent are in distributed resources. “2020 U.S. Energy & Employment Report.”

9 The Solar Foundation, “National Solar Jobs Census 2019,” February 2020

10 DOE Solar Energy Technologies Office, “2020 Utility-Scale Solar Goal Achieved,” September 12, 2017.

11 DOE Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, “Utility-Scale Solar” data file, figures 1 and 8, 2020.

12 DOE Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, “Tracking the Sun” summary data tables file, figure 11, 2020 update.

13 DOE, “How Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs Compare with Traditional Incandescents” (accessed April 2, 2018).

14 DOE Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, ”Adoption of Light-Emitting Diodes in Common Lighting Applications,” table ES.1 and page 22, 2020 update, August 2020; table E.S.1 and figure 4.6, 2017 update, July 2017; figure 3.5, 2015 update, July 2015; figure 2.1, 2013 update, May 2013.

15 DOE Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “Solid-State Lighting R&D Plan,” table 3.1, June 2016.

16 DOE, “Adoption of Light-Emitting Diodes in Common Lighting Applications,” May 2013.

17 Electric Drive Transportation Association, “Electric Drive Sales Dashboard,” 2019.

18 Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Claire Curry, “Lithium-Ion Battery Costs and Market,” July 5, 2017.

19 Bloomberg New Energy Finance, “Battery Pack Prices Fall As Market Ramps Up with Market Average at $156/kWh in 2019,” December 3, 2019; 2020 Update, December 16, 2020.

20 Bloomberg New Energy Finance, “Sustainable Energy in America Factbook,” February 2018.

21 Bloomberg New Energy Finance, “BNEF Brief: Lithium Battery Prices Fall 18 Percent,” December 20, 2018.

22 DOE, Revolution Now, “Energy by the Numbers: An Energy Revolution,” last updated September 2016.

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