A combination of factors led to emissions from the U.S. power sector dropping 10% between 2019 and 2020, which was the largest one-year drop measured since annual reports first began being published in 1997.
The coronavirus pandemic was certainly a contributing factor, but the drop in emissions is part of a long-term trend being driven by increasing reliance on renewable energy sources, diminishing use of coal, and improving energy efficiency.
Between 2000 and 2020, power generation from solar, wind, and geothermal generation more than doubled. Coupled with the declining use of coal power, power sector emissions during that period dropped by 37% even though the U.S. gross domestic product grew by 40% over the same years. Overall, at this point zero-carbon electricity sources – which include wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower, and nuclear power – provide about 38% of U.S. electricity.
The Biden Administration has set a target of 100% zero-carbon power by the year 2035. Given that the costs of wind and solar power continue to fall, there are power companies pushing for setting an intermediate goal of 80% clean power by 2030.
According to recent research, the increasingly attractive cost of renewable power along with the job creation associated with it means that reaching at least 90% clean power by the year 2035 could be achieved at no extra cost to consumers. Being able to separate economic growth from emissions makes it far more likely that the goals of decarbonization can be met without encountering economic resistance.
Photo, posted June 30, 2019, courtesy of Stephen Strowes via Flickr.