U.S. Produces More Power from Wind and Solar than Nuclear for First Time

In April of this year sustainable wind and solar energy sources produced 17.96 percent more electricity than nuclear power plants, the first time the former have overtaken the latter in U.S. history.

This surge in wind and solar-generated electricity meant that clean energy, which also includes geothermal, hydroelectric and biomass energy, comprised nearly 30 percent of the total electricity in the whole U.S., according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data. In 2021, clean energy only made up around 20 percent of the total electricity across the country.

"Notwithstanding headwinds such as the COVID pandemic, grid access problems, and disruptions in global supply chains, solar and wind remain on a roll", said Ken Bossong, executive director of SUN DAY Campaign, which analyzed the EIA data, in a press release.

"Moreover, by surpassing nuclear power by ever greater margins, they illustrate the foolishness of trying to revive the soon-to-retire Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in California and the just-retired Palisades reactor in Michigan rather than focusing on accelerating renewables' growth."

wind and solar
Stock image of a wind and solar farm. This April, wind and solar power produced more electricity than nuclear for the first time in the U.S. iStock / Getty Images Plus

Burning coal and other fossil fuels like oil and gas has been established as the leading factor in climate change, with coal alone being responsible for 0.3 C of the 1°C global temperature increase so far. Fossil fuels contain hydrocarbons, which when burned, release energy that we convert into electricity to power our homes and businesses. However, fossil fuels release carbon dioxide as a byproduct of this burning process, which traps heat inside the atmosphere. The consequences of the resultant climate change from these rising temperatures are dire, ranging from sea level rises, increased droughts and severe weather, biodiversity loss and crop failures.

While nuclear energy is one way to generate electricity without producing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses, the nuclear waste produced by the power plants is incredibly dangerous. They also hold the potential to malfunction in catastrophic ways: the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in the Soviet Union caused local cancer rates to skyrocket, notwithstanding the many deaths from radiation sickness in the employees and firefighters.

Renewable energy sources appear to be the best case solution to the encroaching results of climate change. Not only do they produce less greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels, but they are also sustainable, as we cannot use up all of the wind like we can with underground coal and oil. Wind, solar and hydroelectric power are the three biggest renewable energy providers globally, and thanks to decreasing costs in their use over the past decade (85 percent decrease in solar energy costs, and 55 percent in wind), they are increasing in popularity worldwide.

While coal still makes up the majority of the electricity generation in the U.S., the amount to which the country relies on it is decreasing, having dropped by around 4 percent in 2021.

According to The International Energy Agency, in order to reach net-zero by the Paris Agreement's 2050 target, global wind and solar energy needs make up 20 percent of total electricity by 2025, and 70 percent by 2050.

COO of global energy think tank Ember, Phil MacDonald, said in a statement:

"Wind and solar are breaking records around the world. The process that will reshape the existing energy system has begun. Wind and solar provide a solution to the "trilemma" of achieving a sustainable, affordable and secure energy supply. This decade they need to be deployed at lightning speed."