The latest edition of Environment America Research & Policy Center’s annual Renewables on the Rise report tells the story of clean energy sweeping across America. Renewables on the Rise 2021: The rapid growth of renewables, electric vehicles and other building blocks of a clean energy future tracks the pace of solar and wind power, energy efficiency, electric vehicle and battery storage progress across all 50 states. Here are some takeaways:
1. Over the past decade, the United States has been home to explosive clean energy growth
By tracking the expansion in six key clean energy technologies over the past decade, Renewables on the Rise 2021 paints a picture of rapid nationwide progress across the board:
America produces more than 23 times as much solar power as in 2011, enough to power more than 12 million average American homes.
America produces nearly triple the amount of wind power as in 2011, enough to power more than 31 million homes.
Electric efficiency programs across the U.S. saved over 17% more energy in 2019 compared to 2011. In 2019, these programs saved enough electricity to power more than 2.5 million homes.
From 2011 to 2020, the cumulative number of battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles sold in the U.S. grew 100-fold to nearly 1.7 million. Plug-in electric vehicle sales surpassed 2 million in 2021.
America’s battery storage capacity expanded more than 18-fold from 2011 to 2020 and grew by 67% in 2020 alone.
As the efficiency of heat pumps has improved, they have become an attractive option across the country. In 2015, 12% of all U.S. homes with heat used heat pumps, up from 8% a decade earlier.
So, what does the growth of those particular technologies mean for the future of clean energy?
In order to realize our vision of a future society powered entirely by clean and renewable energy, we’ll need to both transition our electric grid to run on renewable resources and repower other energy uses — like driving our cars and heating our homes — so that they can also run on clean electricity. Renewable power sources, like solar and wind, are key to the first part. They must be paired with electric efficiency technologies that reduce our electricity demand and battery storage technologies that ensure renewables can power our lives around the clock. Other clean energy technologies, such as electric vehicles and electric heat pumps, will be critical to success with the second part of the equation — electrifying everything. The fact that each of these key technologies has grown rapidly over the last 10 years means that it’s now more possible than ever to imagine a future powered entirely by renewable energy.
2. State leadership is driving progress
Clean energy progress has not been uniform — certain states stand out as pace setters for each of the technologies tracked in the report. For example, California, Texas and North Carolina saw the most solar power growth from 2011 to 2020, while California, New York and Florida set the pace for electric vehicle adoption.
The states that are leading in the clean energy race — and, in turn, have spurred progress in other states — haven’t been a happy accident. Ambitious state renewable energy targets and other supportive state policies have played an important role, alongside falling prices and improving technologies. In fact, roughly half of all growth in renewable electricity in the United States since 2000 has been attributed to state adoption of renewable electricity standards.
Now, with nine states committed to 100% clean or renewable electricity and other clean and renewable targets on the books in dozens more, state leadership is poised to continue driving progress in the decade ahead.
3. Additional action is needed
While the U.S. is adopting clean and renewable energy at a record pace, we must keep our foot on the pedal in order to transition to a clean and renewable economy by midcentury or sooner. The good news is that, between 2011 and 2020, U.S. wind, solar and geothermal power generation grew at an annual rate of 15%. If we can keep growing those resources by 15% per year, renewables could meet our nation’s current electricity needs by 2035. But, that will mean adding a lot more wind, solar and geothermal capacity each year than ever before, and that isn’t going to happen by itself.
Building the 100% renewable energy future we need will require state and federal leaders to all row in the same direction. We’ll need additional states to enact binding commitments to achieving 100% clean and renewable electricity, and we’ll need those that have already done so to continue driving toward those targets with urgency. Strong standards for individual technologies, from electric vehicles to efficient appliances and buildings, play important supporting roles as well.
At the federal level, incentives to encourage renewable energy adoption — like those included in the proposed Build Back Better legislation currently under consideration in Congress — will be vital.
The bottom line
America has enormous clean energy potential. Each of the 50 states has the ability to generate enough power to meet its current electricity needs with either wind or solar energy. And, the remarkable progress we’ve seen over the last decade has proven that we can repower our homes, businesses and industries with clean energy. We have countless opportunities to lean in and build on that progress in state capitals across the country and in D.C. How much headway we see in the next decade hinges on whether we seize those opportunities. So, let’s get to work.