Energy Transition

US renewable energy is on the rise. Here's how

US renewable energy

2020 was a good year for the US renewable energy sector, producing 21% of all electricity. Image: Unsplash/ Andreas Gücklhorn

Sean Fleming
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Energy Transition?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how SDG 07: Affordable and Clean Energy is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

SDG 07: Affordable and Clean Energy

Listen to the article

  • 2020 was a good year for the US renewable energy sector, producing 21% of all electricity.
  • Coal continues to decline in importance as a source of energy.
  • But natural gas, a fossil fuel that emits carbon, still dominates.

Last year, the US generated 834 million megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity from renewables, making 2020 a record year for green energy.

Wind, hydroelectric, solar, biomass and geothermal energy produced around 21% of all the electricity generated in the US, coming second only to natural gas (1.6 million MWh) as a source of power.

US renewable energy replacing coal

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) data also details the steady decline of coal in the US energy mix, dropping by 20% in all sectors since 2019. Coal use peaked in the US in 2007, when it produced 2 billion MWh of electricity. It remained the leading source of power until 2016, having been gradually replaced by natural gas.

Although it is a fossil fuel, natural gas burns cleaner than coal or oil, producing less CO2 emissions and other pollutants.

The US renewable energy sector is fast gaining prominence.
The US renewable energy sector is fast gaining prominence. Image: EIA Twitter

The shift to renewables is gathering pace internationally. It rose from 2,200 MW in 2016 to 6,100 MW in 2020, according to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC). This, it says in its Global Wind Report 2021, is partly due to new installations and developments in China and the US.


What's the World Economic Forum doing about the transition to clean energy?

Wind on the up

A long-time devotee of coal, the country has recently started advancing a series of legislative and policy frameworks that favour the US renewable energy sector. This year, the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management completed a review of a new wind farm due to be built off the northeast coast of the US. The plan had been repeatedly delayed by the last US administration, but now looks set to come to fruition.

Called Vineyard Wind, the development will have 84 wind turbines generating 800 MW of electricity, off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard in the state of Massachusetts. All being well, it should be ready to start powering homes and businesses by 2023.

Vineyard Wind is just one of 13 offshore wind farms planned for the Atlantic coast of the US. Altogether, around 2,000 turbines are expected to be installed producing enough energy to power 10 million homes by 2030.

Have you read?

Solar also on the rise

In 2020, US renewable energy, including small-scale solar, increased its share of electricity generation by 9%, according to the EIA. Wind plays the biggest part in that, growing 14% in usage from 2019 to 2020. Solar is growing its share, too. Small-scale installations like rooftop panels that feed into the electricity network grew by 19%, while larger, utility-scale solar projects increased by 26%, from 2019 to 2020.

Over the same period, nuclear power’s contribution to electricity generation in the US declined by 2%. The EIA says that is because of older nuclear power plants being taken off-stream and an increase in maintenance-related outages at others.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

How Brazil and Chile are leading Latin America’s energy transition

Espen Mehlum

July 17, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Sign in
  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum