Chart: Renewable energy beat out nuclear in the US in 2021

Wind, solar, hydro and other renewables combined contributed more electricity to the U.S. grid last year than nuclear power — but the total was still just shy of coal.

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Canary Media’s chart of the week translates crucial data about the clean energy transition into a visual format. Canary thanks Natural Power for its support of this feature.

Renewable energy sources generated more power for the U.S. grid than nuclear in 2021 — for the first time ever. Renewables — including wind, hydropower and utility-scale solar — contributed 20 percent of total power sector generation, compared to 19 percent from nuclear.

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Natural gas remains the largest source of electricity in the U.S., generating 38 percent of the nation’s power in 2021. Coal came in at No. 2 with 22 percent, slightly ahead of both renewables and nuclear; it experienced an uptick in 2021 after a six-year decline. Nuclear electricity generation declined slightly for the second consecutive year, due to retiring reactors.

Renewable generation has been trending upward for more than 20 years, and it shows no signs of stopping. The increase in 2021 resulted mainly from new wind turbines and utility-scale solar farms coming online. Hydroelectric generation, on the other hand, decreased to its lowest level since 2015, mainly because of dry conditions in the western United States,” according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Biomass and geothermal generation have held steady at low levels. 

Wind and solar generation will need to ramp up far more dramatically in the coming years to clean up the electricity sector and help keep climate change in check. If we want to have a net-zero electric grid by 2050, the International Energy Agency projects that wind and solar together will need to supply more than two-thirds of our power.

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Natural Power is a global consultancy that supports its clients to deliver a wide range of renewable energy projects. Its independent engineering experience covers all phases of the project lifecycle, from feasibility through construction to operations, and all stages of the transaction. Learn more.

Maria Virginia Olano is editorial and research associate at Canary Media.