2017 Data: Clean Energy Up; Energy Consumption Down

Karen Wayland, Ph.D.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the agency within the U.S. Department of Energy that collects and analyzes energy statistics, just released its Electric Power Monthly report comparing electricity data for 2016 and 2017. The data’s clear: 2017 was a good year for clean energy! EIA’s latest stats show dramatic growth in wind and solar nationwide and a reduction both in overall consumption of electricity—despite a growing economy—and a decrease in the use of fossil fuels for generating electricity.

Here’s what EIA is reporting for year-to-date changes from 2016 to 2017 (reported in MWh). First, electricity consumption in all sectors except transportation fell, with total electricity sales down by 2.1%. The data for generation fuels continues a trend of growing deployment of renewable energy driven by increasingly competitive costs compared to conventional fuels:

  • Coal down 2.7%
  • Natural gas down 7.7%
  • Renewables excluding hydropower up 13.4%
    • Wind up 12.0%
    • Utility scale solar up 46.9% (!!!)
    • Geothermal up 0.9%
    • Small scale solar up 28.3%

Nevada saw a 10.8% increase in renewable energy generation (excluding hydropower), a 7.9% decrease in natural gas generation, and a 4.6% decrease in net generation.

The EIA numbers are particularly striking given last year’s uncertainty around federal renewables tax policy and reinforce the results of a Lazard report that came out late last year that found that the unsubsidized costs of renewable energy are already cheaper in some instances than existing coal, nuclear and gas generation. Even without strong federal support for clean energy, state and local goals and programs, corporate procurement of renewable energy, and rapidly declining technology costs will continue to improve efficiency and increase renewable generation.

I had to put my reading glasses on to go through the hundreds of charts in the 258-page report so you don’t have to, but if you dive into the document and uncover any interesting statistics, please let us know.

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