2022 energy stats from the Energy Information Administration show that the US in on track to generate more power through renewable sources than coal for the first time ever.
As numerous reports throughout COP27 showed, the US remains the second most polluting nation on the planet when it comes to carbon emissions.
Yet, a week after the summit’s conclusion in Sharm El Sheikh, the US has achieved a hugely significant ecological milestone.
Figures from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecast that more power will be generated from renewable sources in 2022 than coal. This actually occurred back in 2020, though the stats were skewed by how little energy was used that year due to the pandemic.
This represents a first for the US, with more than a fifth of all electricity (22%) coming from hydropower, solar, and wind – while coal use has amounted to 20% and nuclear 19%.
The report shows that both wind and solar are up 18% on last year’s numbers, largely as a result of 11GW worth of renewable projects installed in the first nine months of 2022.
Such a rapid growth of wind and solar will have to continue if the US is to reach its personal climate targets. Researchers at Princeton University estimate that the nation needs to install 50GW of both annually until 2024 if this is to be considered anything more than a small victory.
Talking of long-term objectives, there are logistical drawbacks that could prove to be a constant thorn. Supply chain concerns have delayed the phasing out of coal initiatives, as solar and wind farms are constructed in increments over time.
HIS Markit predicts that 13GW of planned coal retirements have already been delayed by several years. The EIA, however, is confident that more that 8GW worth of coal burners will be cut out next year.
Whether or not fossil fuel facilities are shut down isn’t necessarily the key thing to focus on. Instead, a keen eye would be better served on how often these coal plants are running and at what capacity.
If used sparingly to meet surges in electricity demand, their emissions impact can stay under that of renewables as the wider transition continues. Of course, as long as coal even remains an option, there is always a risk that governments will resist full-scale change.
All conjecture aside, though, this is an encouraging development and it should be treated as such. Hopefully, there will be many more milestones to celebrate on the way to a net zero planet.