In 2022, electricity generated from renewable sources surpassed coal energy in the U.S. for the first time. It also surpassed nuclear-generated power. Wind and solar drove the increase in renewable energy production at 14%, hydropower produced 6%, with biomass and geothermal sources producing a combined 1%. Coal power accounted for 20% in 2022.
How We Got Here
Thanks to changes in the economics of renewable energy production, the levelized cost of producing wind energy declined 70%, and the levelized cost of producing solar power declined by 90%.
The levelized cost of energy (LCOE) is a measurement used to assess and compare alternative methods of energy production. The LCOE of an energy-generating asset can be thought of as the average total cost of building and operating the asset per unit of total electricity generated (over an assumed lifetime).
Alternatively, the levelized cost of energy can be thought of as the average minimum price at which the electricity generated by the asset (such as solar or wind) is required to be sold in order to offset the total costs of production over its lifetime. Calculating the LCOE is related to the concept of assessing a project’s net present value.
According to Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, "Renewable energy is now the most affordable source of new electricity in much of the country."
Another contributor to the shift to renewable energy projects has been the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The IRA initiated significant investment by the federal government in renewable energy and related technologies, which offered welcome relief to developers and investors. Increased and new tax credits have spearheaded this program, making it easier and more affordable for manufacturers' research and development.
California produces most of the national utility-scale solar electricity (26%) followed by Texas (16%). Our neighbor to the south, North Carolina, comes in with the third-highest percentage (9%).
Virginia produces 2.3% of total U.S. generation, placing it in the top 10 states generating electricity from solar.
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that the wind share of U.S. electricity generation will increase from 11% in 2022 to 12% in 2023. States in the mid and southwest parts of the country produce the most electricity from wind, with Texas generating nearly one-quarter of the U.S. total (23.5%).
In their last calculation from September of 2022, The EIA calculated that Virginia produced 3% of U.S wind power, which was a 50% increase from the month before.
Changes for 2023
The EIA predicts that the wind share of electricity generation in the U.S. will increase from 11% in 2022 to 12% in 2023. Solar will grow from 4% to 5% in that same period, and natural gas will remain at 39%. Coal is projected to decline to 17% in 2023.
Manufacturers will be challenged to create better battery storage and long-distance transmission systems as renewable energy production grows because solar and wind generate power intermittently.
The EIA also reports that the U.S. continues to rely heavily on fossil fuels. While coal-fired generation is declining, natural gas remains the largest source of electricity, generating 39% in 2022 compared to 37% in 2021.
Additional challenges in mining the minerals and materials needed to manufacture solar panels, as well as recycling wind and solar components, remain a concern for many environmentalists. A researcher for the Energy Policy Research Group in Great Britain has said, "When the sum-total benefits of renewable energy outweigh the environmental costs associated with the production and disposal of solar and wind components, we can definitively say the renewable energy is one of the most important developments in protecting our planet."