EIA: Wind, solar elevated in 2020; coal, gas and biomass production dropped


Wind and solar energy production rose in a year when every other resource fell due to environmental issues, the financial downtown or the COVID-19 pandemic which caused the fiscal fall.

New stats on 2020 released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration indicates that renewable energy production surpassed coal for the first time since records were taken. The EIA calculates energy production and compares it using British thermal units (Btu) as the common measure of heat.

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Overall, U.S. energy production fell more than 5 percent in 2020 from the previous year, to just below 96 quadrillion Btu (quads). Nationwide energy achieved a record high of more than 101 quads in 2019, but the economic response to the coronavirus spread tamped that production growth down.

Crude oil, dry natural gas and coal all fell in 2020. Led by record levels of newly installed and utility-scale wind and solar, renewable energy production actually rose 2 percent last year to a record 11.8 quads, just above coal and the first time that’s happened, according to the EIA.

Wind energy production increased by 14 percent in the United States to 3 quads, and U.S. solar energy production grew by 23 percent to 1.2 quads. U.S. hydroelectric and geothermal energy production stayed flat, while biomass production, including biofuels and wood, declined by 8%.

Although its capacity hasn’t changed much in recent years due to the lack of available project sites and huge costs, hydroelectric power still accounts for close to half of the renewable portfolio in the U.S.

Between 2019 and 2020, U.S. coal production fell by 25% to less than 11 quads, its largest annual decrease on record. U.S. coal production in 2020 was less than half what it was at its peak in 1998.

Dry gas, which supplies gas-fired power generation, ceased a decade-long rise with only its second annual drop in the past 10 years, the EIA’s report shows.  It decreased by 2 percent to just below 35 quads in 2020, according to the EIA.

Recent stats show that gas-fired power accounts for just above 35 percent of the U.S. power generation capacity mix, followed by nuclear and coal at about 20 percent each. Utility-scale wind has risen above hydro to close to 10 percent mix, while hydro and solar are at about 8 and 2 percent, according to various reports.

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The spectrum of the power generation mix is all important to the content planned for POWERGEN International, happening Jan. 26-28 in Dallas, Texas. The POWERGEN Call for Speakers is now open and seeking content for tracks such as Decarbonization, Digitalization, Energy Storage Breakthroughs, the Future of Electricity, Hydrogen: What’s New and What’s Next?, Optimizing Plant Performance, the New Energy Mix (on-site power) and Trends in Conventional Power. Click here to see more and submit a session idea.

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