U.S. renewable energy generation and the impacts of COVID-19

2020_08_SW_BTS_EnergyGenerationThe future of how we receive electricity is changing. The energy that we see all around us—from the sun, the wind and water—is rapidly being harnessed to power our lives. Looking at the numbers, we can see that renewable energy generation has steadily increased over the last decade. As of 2019, almost 18 percent of all energy generated in the U.S. came from renewable sources, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

This is a significant jump up from only 10 percent in 2010. To break it down by energy type: wind energy makes up 7.3 percent of the total energy generated, hydropower 6.6 percent, solar energy 1.8 percent and other sources like biomass and geothermal energy make up 1.8 percent. Those percentages will continue to grow as a result of
several factors.

The largest contributing factor is that the costs of building renewable energy projects have become much cheaper. Additionally, many states across the country have set guidelines and policies for producing a certain percentage of energy from renewable sources by a set goal year. Lastly, many large corporations like Google, Amazon and Facebook have started to invest in large-scale renewable energy projects. In addition to receiving a return on their investment from renewable energy projects, these companies are able to show a concern for sustainability to their consumers. Combined, the declining costs, state policies and large-scale action have brought the industry to where it is today.

Although the growth trends for renewable energy have been steady for nearly a decade, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought uncertainties to the industry. Many projects have been delayed, or even canceled, because of manufacturing and construction issues. Financial concerns of an uncertain market further worsen the impacts of COVID-19 on new renewable energy projects.

New installations for solar energy are expected to drop 20 percent this year, according to the energy research group Wood Mackenzie. Similarly, but not as steep, wind energy installations are expected to drop 6 percent. The overall decline of renewable energy projects also means many lost jobs. Research from BW Research Partnership shows more than 100,000 jobs were lost in March 2020 alone, and there is a potential for more than half a million jobs lost as a result of COVID-19 through the rest of the year.

Despite these drawbacks, there is abundant hope for the renewable energy market. Forecasts by the U.S. EIA show that the electricity produced in the U.S. will decline by 5 percent in 2020. However, despite the overall drop of electricity production, EIA shows renewable energy will still grow 11 percent this year in the electricity power sector. Renewable energy is predicted to be the fastest-growing form of energy produced this year.

Looking to the future, there are many states that remain committed to their renewable energy policies, and many investors and corporations continue to see economic and social value in renewable energy investments. COVID-19 will undoubtedly affect the renewable energy industry in the short-term, but we expect to see the industry continue to grow over the coming decades.