In the fight against global warming, renewables have been championed as one of the best resources to help cut carbon emissions. Recent statistics suggest this strategy is paying dividends.
In November 2023, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the statistical and analytical agency within the U.S. Department of Energy, released its monthly Short-Term Energy Outlook. The report makes some notable findings about the energy sector concerning the growth of renewable power and the drop in carbon emissions from coal.
According to the report, the U.S. energy sector is on track to emit about 4,790 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2023. This represents a 3% decrease from 2022.
This is also a notable drop from previous projections. In January of last year, the EIA projected U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions to increase in 2022 and 2023 from the previous years.
According to the EIA, much of the decline in emissions noted in the current report results from lower electricity generation from coal-fired power plants and higher generation from renewable sources such as solar power.
The EIA notes that the electric power sector has been retiring significant coal-fired plants in the face of economic competition from natural gas. At the same time, the sector has also been increasingly shifting toward renewables. This combination of factors has put the sector on track for an 18% decline in coal-related CO2 emissions this year, and a 5% decline next year.
A number of notable trends are occurring within the renewable sector itself, which will continue to drive more growth. In particular, solar power is on something of a tear. EIA notes that 60 gigawatts of new solar generating capacity are expected to enter service during 2023 and 2024.
Also, for the second year in a row, rapid growth helped solar outpace hydropower. In September 2022, the EIA noted that the United States had more solar-generated electricity than hydroelectric generation on a monthly basis for the first time ever. For that month, U.S. solar power plants and rooftop solar generated about 19 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh), compared with 17 billion kWh from U.S. hydropower plants.
EIA reported that solar power outpaced hydropower again this summer due to exponential growth in installed capacity.