How Much Of Us Electricity Is From Renewable Sources?

How much of US electricity is from renewable sources?

Renewable energy comes from natural sources or processes that are constantly replenished, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, and geothermal heat. The development and use of renewable energy is critical for replacing fossil fuels, which are non-renewable and major contributors to climate change. Renewable energy sources currently provide a small but rapidly growing share of total energy consumption in the United States and worldwide. Understanding the current reliance on and potential for renewable energy is crucial as we transition to a more sustainable energy system.

This overview will examine: What percentage of U.S. electricity generation currently comes from renewable energy sources? To provide context, we will look at capacity and generation from the main renewable sources – such as hydropower, wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass – and how their contribution has changed over time. Regional variations will also be explored. Challenges, policy supports, economic impacts, and the future outlook for renewable energy development will be discussed. The goal is to give a comprehensive look at the role renewable energy plays in the U.S. electricity sector.

Current Share of Renewables

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, renewable energy sources accounted for about 20% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2020. This represents a steady increase from past years. For example, in 2010, renewables were only about 10% of total generation.

The largest source of renewable electricity is hydroelectric power, representing about 7% of total generation in 2020. Wind energy is the second largest at around 8.4%, followed by solar at about 3%. Biomass and geothermal make up the remainder.

Recent growth has been driven primarily by expansion in wind and solar energy production. Wind generation has increased over 3 times since 2010, while utility-scale solar has grown over 40 times.

Overall, electricity generation from renewable sources has doubled from 10% in 2010 to 20% in 2020 (source). This reflects both falling costs and supportive policies for renewables deployment.

Growth of Renewables

Renewable energy sources have seen rapid growth in the United States over the past decade. According to a report by Deloitte, renewable electricity generation increased 50% between 2011 and 2021. This growth was driven primarily by expansion in wind and solar power. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that electricity generation from wind energy increased from 120 million megawatt-hours in 2011 to 338 million megawatt-hours in 2021. Similarly, utility-scale solar generation grew from 3 million megawatt-hours in 2011 to 122 million megawatt-hours in 2021.

Projections indicate strong continued growth in renewable energy over the next decade. According to analysis by Wood Mackenzie and the American Clean Power Association, the U.S. is expected to add over 390 gigawatts of new wind and solar capacity between 2022 and 2030. This would more than double current renewable energy capacity. Key factors driving growth include declining costs, supportive policies, corporate procurement, and electrification initiatives. The EIA predicts that by 2030, wind and solar will generate 22% of U.S. electricity, up from 11% in 2020. Realizing these projections will require overcoming challenges such as permitting delays, supply chain issues, and grid integration needs.

Types of Renewable Sources

The main types of renewable energy sources in the US are:

  • Solar power – This includes photovoltaics (PV) that convert sunlight directly into electricity, as well as concentrating solar power (CSP) plants that use focused sunlight to heat a fluid and drive a steam turbine.
  • Wind power – Using wind turbines to generate electricity. Wind power accounts for the largest share of renewable electricity in the US.
  • Hydropower – Generating electricity using flowing water, such as dams and hydrokinetic turbines.
  • Biofuels – Liquid fuels like ethanol and biodiesel made from plant materials that can replace gasoline and diesel.
  • Geothermal – Using heat from inside the earth to provide heating/cooling or generate electricity.
  • Biomass – Organic material like wood, agricultural waste, and landfill gas burned to produce heat and electricity.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, in 2019 the breakdown of renewable energy by source was: wind (42%), hydropower (28%), solar (11%), biofuels (10%), biomass (6%), and geothermal (3%). [1]

Regional Differences

There are significant differences in renewable energy use across U.S. states and regions. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the top renewable energy producing states in 2022 were:

California – Solar power is a major contributor, accounting for over 15% of the state’s net generation. California has set ambitious renewable energy goals, targeting 100% clean electricity by 2045.

Texas – Wind power dominates in Texas, which produces over 30% of the nation’s total wind-powered electricity. In 2021, approximately 28% of Texas’ power came from wind.

The Midwest – States like Iowa and Kansas generate a large share of electricity from wind. Iowa produces over 55% of its electricity from wind power. The Midwest’s wind resources and wide-open spaces make it ideal for wind farms.

The Northwest – Hydroelectric power accounts for over 50% of electricity generation in states like Oregon and Washington, thanks to ample water resources from the Columbia River.

Southeast – Overall the Southeast generates a smaller share of renewable energy compared to other regions. However, North Carolina and Georgia are major producers of biomass energy.

Northeast – New England states like Vermont and Maine are leaders in biomass electricity generation. Solar and wind have growth potential throughout the Northeast.

Overall the renewable energy makeup across states reflects the availability of local renewable resources, as well as different policies and goals for renewable energy adoption.



While renewable energy has seen tremendous growth, there are still challenges limiting further expansion. Some key challenges include:

Intermittency – Wind and solar power are intermittent sources, meaning they are not available on demand or at all times. This requires backup power or storage solutions when renewable generation is unavailable.

Storage – Effective and affordable grid-scale energy storage is needed to store excess renewable generation for use when wind/sun is not available. Current storage options remain limited.

Transmission – Many prime renewable energy sites are located far from population centers requiring major investments in transmission infrastructure. Permitting and building new transmission lines faces challenges.

Cost – Renewable power generation has become cost competitive in many areas due to technology improvements. However, initial capital costs can still be higher than conventional sources. Ongoing subsidies are often required.

See the following for more details on challenges facing renewable energy expansion: [url1] [url2]

Policy Support

Government policies at both the federal and state levels have been crucial for driving the growth of renewable energy in the United States. Key federal policies include the Production Tax Credit (PTC), which provides tax credits for electricity generated from renewable sources, and the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which gives tax credits for investment in renewable energy systems. These tax credits have helped incentivize wind and solar development. The federal Renewable Fuel Standard program has also driven growth in biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel.

At the state level, Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) have been among the most impactful policies. As of 2020, 30 states and Washington D.C. had binding RPS programs which require electric utilities to source a certain percentage of their power from renewables Many states have also adopted net metering policies which allow homeowners and businesses with rooftop solar panels to sell excess electricity back to the grid. Additionally, some states offer tax incentives, rebates, and other programs to make renewable energy more affordable and accessible.

The combination of federal tax credits and state RPS programs has created strong market demand for renewable energy and enabled significant capacity growth, especially for wind and solar. Continued policy support will be important for meeting national and state renewable energy goals.

Economic Impact

The growth of renewable energy has had a positive impact on the US economy, especially when it comes to job creation. According to a Yale study, renewable energy projects on public lands contributed over $8 billion in economic output and supported nearly 80,000 jobs in 2019 alone. The renewable energy industry employs hundreds of thousands of Americans in manufacturing, construction, operations, and other roles. In fact, the solar industry workforce has grown over 167% in the past decade.

In addition to jobs, renewable energy growth improves America’s energy independence and security. Relying more on domestic renewable sources and less on imported fossil fuels makes the US less vulnerable to global energy price shocks. Renewable energy systems can also make the power grid more resilient. The modular and distributed nature of renewables like rooftop solar reduces strain on centralized infrastructure. Overall, accelerating the transition to renewable electricity brings major economic benefits while enhancing US energy security.

Environmental Impact

The most significant environmental benefit of renewable energy is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel consumption. According to the EPA, the U.S. electric power sector was responsible for 25% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 [1]. As renewable energy replaces fossil fuels for electricity generation, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions are reduced.

The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that doubling renewable electricity generation (from wind, solar, geothermal) would reduce U.S. power plant CO2 emissions by 1.5 billion tons per year by 2030 [2]. This is equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions of 320 million passenger vehicles. Shifting to renewable energy is a key strategy for mitigating climate change and meeting emissions reduction targets.

In addition to cutting greenhouse gases, renewables like solar PV and wind turbines produce no air pollution emissions while generating electricity. This can lead to improved public health through lower particulate matter and other pollutants. Hydropower’s lack of emissions also provides environmental benefits over fossil fuels.

Future Outlook

Projections show continued strong growth for renewable energy in the coming decades. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, renewables are expected to supply 44% of U.S. electricity by 2050, up from 21% in 2020 (EIA, 2022). The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Renewable Electricity Futures Study explored renewable energy growth up to 90% by 2050, focusing on 80%, though they note challenges in grid flexibility and transmission expansion that would need to be addressed (NREL, 2012). The EIA forecasts 9-10% declines in coal-fired generation by 2024-2025 as renewables increase and mostly displace coal (EIA Short-Term Outlook, 2022).

Key factors enabling continued growth include rapidly falling costs and improved efficiency of wind and solar power, along with growth in energy storage. Policy support through tax credits, state renewable portfolio standards, and other measures will also facilitate growth. However, challenges remain in modernizing the electric grid, integrating high levels of variable renewables, transmitting power from remote areas with abundant solar and wind resources, updating market structures and pricing mechanisms, and obtaining sufficient battery storage and transmission capacity. If these challenges can be adequately addressed, projections show renewables continuing their rapid growth in the coming decades.

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