Renewables on the Rise

A decade of progress toward a clean energy future

A report by Frontier Group and Environment America Research & Policy Center
Download the report as a PDF.
Photo: Jürgen via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0
In the last decade, clean energy has grown by leaps and bounds. Technologies that were once novelties — solar panels, wind turbines, LED light bulbs, electric cars — have become everyday parts of America’s energy landscape. America produces nearly eight times more renewable energy from the sun and the wind than in 2007, while the average American uses 10 percent less energy than a decade ago. But America can and should set her sights higher, and meet 100 percent of our energy needs with clean, renewable energy.

Clean energy technologies are booming across America

Since 2007, America has made rapid progress toward repowering our economy with clean, renewable energy. Just nine years ago, many key clean energy technologies were limited to niche markets or perceived as too expensive. Today, the rapid adoption of wind and solar power and energy efficiency technologies — along with the emergence of electric vehicles and electric storage — provides a glimpse of what is possible in the transition to an economy powered entirely with clean, renewable energy.

Solar and wind energy have grown exponentially

In 2007, solar rooftops and utility-scale power plants produced 0.03 percent of America’s electricity, or enough electricity to power 120,000 average American homes. By the end of 2016, solar power generated enough electricity to power 5 million average American homes, a 44 percent increase over the previous year.

By the end of 2007, America had built up a modest capacity for generating electricity from the wind, producing 0.8 percent of the nation’s electricity, enough to power more than 3 million homes. By 2016, wind turbines produced 5.5 percent of America’s power, enough to power 21 million homes. 2016 also saw the installation of the 50,000th wind turbine in the United States, as well as the launch of our nation’s first utility-scale offshore wind farm, off the coast of Block Island, R.I.

Meanwhile, U.S. energy consumption has dropped by 3.6 percent since 2007, despite a growing population and economy. Between 1950 and 2007, total energy use in the United States nearly tripled.

Electric cars see increased popularity

Achieving an economy powered by 100 percent renewable energy means ending the use of fossil fuels to power our cars and trucks as well as our homes. The first electric cars did not appear on American roads until the late 2000s, and as late as 2010 the number of electric cars numbered only in the hundreds. Today, however, more than 620,000 electric cars have been sold in the U.S., with more than 20 models on the market, while annual sales of electric cars have grown to 160,000 since 2007.

Battery storage technology poised for growth

Energy storage hasn’t grown at rates comparable to wind and solar power, only having grown by three percent in the last decade. However, there are signs that a game changing boom is on the way.

More than 90 percent of the energy storage added in 2007 has been in the form of battery storage, which increased 20-fold in terms of capacity through the end of 2016.

A recent introduction of home electricity storage systems produced by companies could set the stage for further growth in the years to come.

Accelerating the pace of change

The U.S. can and must accelerate our clean energy progress and end our dependence on fossil fuels in order to prevent the worst impacts of global warming. Transitioning to clean, renewable energy will also improve our health by preventing hazardous air pollution.

If renewable energy generation grows by 15 percent per year — slightly more than half the current rate of growth, wind and solar alone will produce enough electricity to meet all of our current electricity needs by 2035.

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Contact: Rob Sargent
Environment America Energy Program Director
(617) 747-4317

Contact: Bret Fanshaw
Environment America Solar Energy Coordinator
(602) 252-9225


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