Renewable energy is growing rapidly, but still has not come close to eclipsing fossil fuels, which will be critical for years to come.
- The U.S. has many renewable energy sources, but the electrical grid mainly runs on fossil fuels.
- In 2021, 61% of electricity came from burning coal, natural gas, or petroleum.
- About 20% of electricity was from renewables, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
- Nuclear power provides about 19% of the nation’s electricity.
Why it’s important
The U.S. has tremendous amounts of renewable energy sources—such as wind turbines, solar panels, and hydropower. As the cost comes down and ease of production rises, the U.S. creates more renewable energy.
In 1990, wind power provided only 2.8 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity—doubling to 5.6 billion in 2000. But from there, it skyrocketed—up to 94.6 billion in 2010 and 379.8 billion in 2021.
Renewable energy has been around for quite a while but has only been relatively affordable in recent years, and even now, the generation of them depends on location.
In places with a lot of sun solar energy is typically the cheapest, while windy locations have more affordable wind power, but in other locations those sources are still costly. In order to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy it needs to be cost-effective.
Fossil fuels, mainly coal and oil, are still much cheaper and easier to come by. The U.S. was once built around burning fossil fuels, so many of our current resources are easier to get since that was once our main source of energy, but renewables are becoming cheaper each day.
In the 1950s, solar power was nearly 10,000 times more expensive than coal and gas but is now, in some cases, cheaper than traditional electricity. It will take time and money, but soon most renewable resources will be easier to come by and outweigh fossil fuels.
The U.S. is working on converting old ways of gathering fossil fuels, and once it is more cost-efficient to use renewable energy, it will take over.
“You’ve got an existing power plant, it’s paid off. Now you need renewables to be cheaper than running that plant to actually retire an old plant,” says Paul Denholm of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “You need new renewables to be cheaper just in the variable costs or the operating cost of that power plant.”