In a first, U.S. renewables generation overtakes coal

Washington D.C. Correspondent
Chart showing renewables in U.S. overtaking coal-fired generation for first time in 2022
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration • Data includes electric utilities and independent power producers.

The United States generated more electricity from renewable energy than from coal last year, a first that illustrates the transition underway in the country.

The data, from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, comes as wind and solar also accounted for a record amount of global electricity, according to new data from think tank Ember.

These trends are likely to continue, despite an overall uptick in fossil fuel generation last year.

Declining construction costs and favorable government subsidies ramped up the share of renewables in the U.S.’s overall energy mix, boosted almost exclusively by increased wind and solar generation, to just over 20% of power generation in 2022.

These increases occurred despite growing challenges posed by higher interest rates, supply chain constraints and delays in permitting and grid connections.

Other renewable sources—hydropower, geothermal and biomass—didn’t contribute to the increase in 2022.

As Cipher reported in February, the increasing share of installed renewable capacity (the maximum total amount of electricity a power plant can generate at a specific point in time), corresponds with an increase in renewable energy generation (the actual power generated by a plant over a period of time).

Because of their variable nature, wind and solar have lower relative actual generation compared to electricity sources that run constantly, like natural gas and nuclear power.

In contrast, coal-fired generation dipped to 20% of the electricity mix last year as a record number of coal power plants retired. Coal generation is expected to continue declining to 17% in 2023.

Most electricity in the U.S. still came from natural gas in 2022, it’s share increasing to 39% as the U.S. economy recovered from the Covid-19 pandemic.