Dive Brief:

  • Power-generating capacity from renewable energy — including solar, wind and utility-scale hydropower — has doubled in the U.S. since 2010, while generation has jumped 77% in that time, according to a new report from BloombergNEF (BNEF) and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE).
  • The Sustainable Energy in America Factbook, the eighth annual edition, notes that even as the economy grew over the past decade, greenhouse gas emissions dropped. In five years, year-over-year energy consumption even fell, thanks to more efficiency measures. 
  • Cities played a key role in the energy trends, especially through building energy codes and benchmarking policies. In many markets, renewables are the cheapest new generation source​, according to the factbook.

Dive Insight:

Despite headwinds from the federal government under the Trump administration, renewable energy surged in the U.S. over the past decade, BNEF and BCSE found. Natural gas was a key part of the energy shift, becoming the primary source of U.S. power generation amid a boom in production. Wind and solar also made huge gains as prices dropped; for example, the price of a typical photovoltaic solar module fell 77%. Due to these drops, wind and solar combined saw an estimated 180 gigawatts added globally in 2019​.

The rise in renewables was also attributed to demand, with consumers becoming more aware of their energy consumption and more interested in finding efficient sources. There are some 85 million “smart meters” in the U.S., up from less than 10 million in 2010. States and cities have also taken the lead on benchmarking and building codes that require energy efficiency.

According to the Factbook, 13% of commercial building space is covered by energy use policies, the equivalent of 11 billion square feet. Those policies are growing, with cities like San Jose, CA and Seattle transitioning city-owned buildings away from fossil fuels. 

Anna Pavlova, vice president of government relations for electric equipment firm Schneider Electric, said those efficiency benchmarks and related decarbonization goals have helped drive the changes in the power sector. “Policy matters in this case,” Pavlova said in a press event, adding that states and cities of all sizes and political persuasions have looked at benchmarking goals. 

As cities are doubling down on climate plans — Los Angeles this week kicked off implementation of its Green New Deal plan focused on active transportation — and working to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, the demand for renewables could continue to rise. Transportation remains the biggest source of emissions and a potential barrier to climate goals, but Ethan Zindler, BNEF head of Americas, said it’s clear there is a “new urgency” to address climate change among the public, meaning the renewable trends are likely to stay the course.  

“I think we’re getting to the point now where renewable energy is sticking with the American public,” Zindler said, “and that’s why we’re going to see this ramp-up continue.”