The US Energy Information Administration reports that in 2020, renewable energy sources (including wind, hydroelectric, solar, biomass, and geothermal energy) generated a record 834 billion kWh of electricity, or about 21% of all generation in the United States. Only natural gas (1617 billion kWh) produced more in 2020. Renewables overtook both nuclear (790 billion kWh) and coal (774 billion kWh) for the first time on record. This outcome in 2020 was due mostly to significantly less coal use in US electricity generation and steadily increasing deployment of wind and solar.
In 2020, US generation from coal in all sectors declined 20% from 2019, while renewables, including small scale solar, increased 9%. Wind, currently the most prevalent source of renewable electricity in the United States, grew 14% in 2020 from 2019. Utility-scale solar generation (from projects greater than 1 MW) increased 26%, and small scale solar, such as grid-connected rooftop solar panels, increased 19%.
Coal-fired electricity generation in the United States peaked at 2016 billion kWh in 2007 and much of that capacity has been replaced by or converted to natural gas-fired generation since then. Coal was the largest source of electricity in the United States until 2016, and 2020 was the first year that more electricity was generated by renewables and by inuclear power than by coal (according to data going back to 1949). Nuclear electric power declined 2% from 2019 to 2020 because several nuclear power plants retired and other nuclear plants experienced slightly more maintenance-related outages.
EIA expects coal fired generation to increase in the USA during 2012 as natural gas prices continue to rise and coal becomes more economically competitive. Based on forecasts in its Short Term Energy Outlook, it expects coal-fired electricity generation in all sectors in 2021 to increase 18% from 2020 levels before falling 2% in 2022: and renewable generation across all sectors to increase 7% in 2021 and 10% in 2022. As a result, EIA forecasts that coal will be the second-most prevalent electricity source in 2021, while renewables will be the second-most prevalent source in 2022. It expects nuclear electric power to decline 2% in 2021 and 3% in 2022 as operators close generation plants scheduled for retirement.