US renewable energy sector in focus – facts & figures

Where is the US in its push towards using renewable energy? A new factbook from Bloomberg New Energy Finance provides all the latest stats on generation and consumption.

In 2015, the US experienced an increase in the closure of coal plants on one hand and the commissioning of solar photovoltaic systems on the other.

In the same year, utilities in the US resorted to the implementation of a number of energy efficiency programmes for the sustainable use of energy mostly generated from the renewable sources as the country’s economic growth outpaced the growth in electricity generation.

To give a detailed analysis of US’s renewable energy status, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) issued a report ‘The Sustainable Energy in America Factbook’.

US renewable energy investment

The report – BNEF’s fourth edition on renewable energy in the US – also analyses the natural gas sector’s investment flows and contributions to the country’s generated energy in 2015.

The study provides a flashback of the country’s renewable and gas sector over the past seven years to show trends.

According to the study, the US invested US$56bn, a development which has made it the second most attractive clean energy country after China.

Renewable energy generation and policy impacts

To date, US’s hydro power generation makes up 20% of the country’s power stack at 221GW, while wind generated power reached 75% in Q4 2015.

Solar energy has been the fastest growing, averaging a 60% clip annually since 2008 to bring the total capacity to 28GW.

Due to limited policy support, geothermal, biomass, biogas and waste to energy sectors additions have grown at a slower rate, with 3.2GW added collectively since 2008.

On the other side, environmental regulations have encouraged the accelerated retirement of 14GW of coal-fired power plants in the US, representing 5% of the installed coal capacity in the US.

Regulations have also resulted in an increase of corporate procurement of clean energy, doubling it from 2013 to 2014 and again from 2014 to 2015 levels.

In 2015 alone, corporations including Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple contracted 3.1GW of new renewable capacity with the majority generated from wind farms.

Solar generated power increased from 0.3GW in 2014 to 1.1GW in 2015.

The report findings concludes that the ratio of US GDP to energy consumed continues to grow, improving by 2.3% from 2014 to 2015 following a 1.1% increase from 2013 to 2014 levels.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy predicts 60% of the energy intensity improvements since 1980 are due to energy efficiency gains.

In 2015, electricity savings reached 25GW following implementation of various energy efficiency programmes.

In 2014, utilities invested US$6.7bn, up 8.1% from the US$6.2bn in the energy efficiency measures.

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Nicholas Nhede is an experienced energy sector writer based in Clarion Event's Cape Town office. He has been writing for Smart Energy International’s print and online media platforms since 2015, on topics including metering, smart grids, renewable energy, the Internet of Things, distributed energy resources and smart cities. Originally from Zimbabwe, Nicholas holds a diploma in Journalism and Communication Studies. Nicholas has a passion for how technology can be used to accelerate the energy transition and combat climate change.