2018 was a record year for renewable energy. 2019 could be the same.

2018 was a record year for renewable energy. 2019 could be the same.

By Ziya Erdem

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, electricity generation in the United States in 2018 was 63.5% from fossil fuels, 19.3% from nuclear energy, and 17.1% from renewable energy sources. Among renewable energy, the main sources were 7% hydropower, 6.6% wind, and 1.6% solar power. Of fossil fuels, natural gas was at a record high of 35%, while coal saw an all-time post-WW2 record low of 27% in 2018.

Environmental awareness is increasing, and according to a study carried out in late 2018, 73% of the United States thinks climate change is happening, while 62% of the country believes it is human caused. Electricity production across the world is undergoing change, and more investment is being made in innovation, manufacturing, and applications for clean-energy solutions.

The United States is currently one of the top three countries in the world in wind turbine production. There were one million solar installations in the United States in 2016, and this is expected to rise to two million in early 2019 and to four million solar installations by 2023. Both technologies are projected to grow and become more prevalent in U.S. electricity generation in the near future. The U.S. Department of Energy foresees a 10% increase in generation by solar power and a 12% increase in generation by wind power in 2019.  

There are three trends likely to impact the growth of renewable energy in the United States in 2019:

  • Emerging federal, state, and local political support: New local, state, and federal initiatives are receiving more attention and support. For instance, Hawaii and California have set the goal of 100% renewable energy by 2045, while over 200 mayors in the United States have established the objective of 100% renewable by 2035. New policies are expected to trigger further growth in wind and solar power.
  • Increase in investment: By the end of 2018, 156 global corporations — many based in the United States — have committed themselves to 100% renewable energy. Corporate procurement continues to increase, and asset management companies are collecting renewable energy portfolios. One example is Goldman Sachs, which has acquired 76 solar energy projects found on 143 sites. Investment in renewable energy in the United States exceeded $40 billion in both 2017 and 2018, and total private investment in renewable energy could reach a cumulative $1 trillion between 2018 and 2030.
  • Development in technology: Investment in technology is also on the rise, with advancements in technology bringing costs down. Research on solar and wind power are areas of interest, with more research via government investment on the horizon. The U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy budget was increased by 2% for 2019 to reach $2.38 billion by Congress.

Emerging policies, advancements in technology, increases in investment, and more social awareness will most likely cause an increase in renewable energy growth in 2019 in the United States. The decrease in renewable energy costs, in addition to favorable federal policies, are also likely to stimulate renewable demand.

In G20 countries, energy generation by fossil fuels costs between $0.05 and $0.17 per kilowatt-hour today. Renewable energy is expected to cost $0.03-$0.10 per kilowatt-hour by 2020, while the price of onshore wind power and solar photovoltaic projects could be as low as $0.03 per kilowatt-hour by 2019.

Renewable energy demand will expand opportunities; and although there is some political resistance, the general trend in the United States and worldwide is towards sustainability and renewable energy growth.

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