The report surveyed the use of renewable energy and natural gas in the United States in 2015. Natural gas production and consumption grew to record levels this year, aided by natural gas prices being the lowest they have been since 1999. Those rates mean that the United States is better poised to compete with other countries on electricity charges – at present, the U.S. has cheaper power than Germany, China, or India.
Over 40GW of coal-burning capacity at power plants was disconnected in 2015, with 19GW of coal added. Only 34 percent of United States electricity came from coal, compared to 50 percent at the peak of coal use in 2005. Corporations are latching on to wind farms the quickest, but solar has also increased, rising from 0.3 GW in 2014 to 1.1GW in 2015.
Demand for electricity is holding steady, compared to an increase in the national growth rate of 2.4 percent from 1990 to 2000. Despite the increase in renewables and declining reliance on coal, power prices have not risen: the average retail electricity rates generally fell, and are 5.8 percent below the most recent peak in 2008. However, some areas, including California, New York, and New England, are still in a period of high power retail prices.
It is still a struggle to reach “grid parity,” where renewable energy can power the public grid at the same or lower cost than traditional methods, but generation costs in wind and solar are both gradually dropping. In optimal conditions like the high winds and hot sun of Texas, industrial-scale solar plants have achieved power purchase agreement rates close to $50/MWh, and wind farms have signed PPAs at $19-35/MWh.
A critical element of clean energy work this year was the Paris Climate Summit.
“2015 clearly marked a turning point for American energy,” said Lisa Jacobson, president of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, in a press release. “As we consider the post-Paris world, we should acknowledge that we’ve entered a new era here in the United States. We now have both the tools and the capacity to achieve carbon reductions and cost savings along with economic growth. Now our job is to continue to build on the progress we’ve made.”
Meanwhile, carbon dioxide emissions from the United States power sector fell to the lowest they have been since the mid-1990s. Colleen Regan, a BNEF analyst, said that most of the trends this year show signs of being permanent shifts rather than one-time reactions to current events.
The complete report can be found at the BCSE.
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