Wind Energy FAQs: Generation By Renewables

U.S. Electricity Generation by Renewables (2008-2020)

This chart shows how much of U.S. electricity comes from each type of renewable generator: hydro, wind, solar, wood, other biomass and geothermal over the period from January 2008 to April 2020.

The market share of renewable energy was largely unchanged – at 17.5% – through late 2017 and 2018. This was due to a marked decline in hydro output starting in mid 2017 and stretching through to the present day, combined with a low wind year in 2018 (it happens!). Nonetheless, rapid growth of wind and solar since then has seen their total market share rise to a record 18.7% of US generation at the end of April 2020: this compares with 19.7% of electricity from nuclear.

The following chart breaks out the hydro data and demonstrates, surprisingly for some, that – at least on an annual basis – hydro output is significantly more variable than that of wind (or solar).

The chart shows that although no new hydro capacity was added in 2011, that year saw annualized hydro output increase 23% from 261 terawatt hours (TWh) in January to 322 TWh in December before declining back to 265 TWh in January 2014. By comparison: the U.S. experienced a low wind year in 2015. That year was admittedly one in which there was a rapid build out of new wind capacity: nonetheless annualized wind output declined by only 2% from a peak of 179 TWh in January to a low of 175 TWh in June before rising by 8.3% to 190.5 TWh at the end of 2015. Likewise, fall 2018 through to Spring 2019, saw another low-wind period when – despite significant new capacity additions – wind energy output was largely unchanged.

The point is not that one type of renewables is inherently better than the other but rather that all forms are complimentary. Wind (and solar) play a useful role in balancing out the considerable annual variability in output of hydro electric power stations. Hydro also plays a key role in balancing the considerable monthly and daily variability of wind and solar.

It is also interesting to note that the seasonal output of wind and solar is inversely correlated: wind output peaks in the winter and solar in the summer. Yet another illustration of the important role multiple generators play in reducing overall system variability.