Top 6 takeaways from the 2021 BCSE Sustainable Energy in America Factbook

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Each year, the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE) along with BloombergNEF releases a factbook containing the impacts and statistics about renewable energy’s performance in America over the past year. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic had huge effects on the industry including decreasing energy demand overall and the furlough of hundreds of thousands of clean energy workers. Though some numbers from this year’s factbook might look different next year as the country rebounds from the pandemic, it also might have shifted how the country looks at clean energy and its role in the American mix.  

Download the Factbook here

  1. Renewable energy build set a record in 2020, adding 33.8 GW of capacity, up 61% over 2019. 

To put this amazing number in context, the previous record was about half this amount of build. Renewable energy provided 1/5th of 2020 U.S. power generation;17.1GW of wind power was built (up 85% from 2019) and 16.5GW of solar power was added in 2020 - enough to power 11 million homes...each!

  1. U.S. spending on energy efficiency through formal frameworks – such as utilities, energy savings performance contracts and property assessed clean energy (PACE) – totaled $14.8 billion in 2019.

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” States and cities are making progress by creating building energy use policies such as energy efficiency benchmarks and mandates to help measure energy usage in buildings. The square footage of commercial building space covered by these policies rose to 13% in 2020, up from 9% in 2017, covering 11 billion square feet. More work is needed to retrofit our built environment to help achieve overall carbon reduction goals.

  1. Biogas, biomass, waste-to-energy and geothermal together represented 16.6 GW of U.S. capacity in 2020, and the extension of tax credits at the end of 2020 is expected to boost future growth.

In 2020, the U.S. installed 9MW of biomass and 22MW of biogas projects. Bioenergy build has tapered since 2013, when the Production and Investment Tax Credits, as well as the 1603 Treasury grant program, encouraged almost 800MW of new installations. However, these technologies will benefit from the PTC extension that Congress approved at the end of 2020. Nine new anaerobic digesters were added in 2020 in the U.S. On average, since 2014, eight new systems have been built annually. The total count of operational projects (accounting for retirements) has increased 13% since 2014.

  1. In 2020, new investment in the clean energy transition in the U.S. totaled $85 billion, nearly 20% of the global total but still down 11% from 2019.

Global energy investment hit $500 billion for the first time in 2020 - increasing 9% from 2019. Solar and wind energy accounted for 90% of all renewable energy investments in 2020. However, last year, $12 billion fewer dollars were invested in renewable technologies than in 2019. 

  1. 41.3 gigawatts (GW) of new clean energy capacity was added in 2020; natural gas and renewables represented 95% of all new power generation built in the last decade.

All forms of energy demand fell in 2020, except renewable energy, which rose. An impressive 40% of US generation was zero-carbon in 2020 and 20% of U.S. power sources came from renewables, up 3% from 2019. Overall, natural gas and renewable energy together accounted for 61% of U.S. electricity generation in 2020, up from 38% in 2011.

  1. The U.S. economy contracted 3.5%, with primary energy demand down 7.8%, electricity demand down 3.8% and transportation energy demand down 14%.

This reflects people staying home and staying safe and many workers working from home and cutting out commutes. Energy productivity did rise last year, but that is a reflection of the reduction of energy use overall. 

In 2020, one trillion dollars of stimulus spending was committed to reducing carbon emissions worldwide. The U.S. joined this effort at the end of 2020 by extending the PTC and ITC tax credits and committing to R&D funding totaling $19 billion over 10 years. However, it is important to note that money committed does not always mean money spent. The clean energy industry is resilient and has the power to help the U.S. economy rebound from the impacts of COVID-19. Overall, this factbook provides a foundation of facts for policymakers and industry leaders to continue advancing clean energy in the United States.