Report: Wind and solar energy have tripled since 2008


We worry a lot about the problem of climate change. And we try to fix it — again, again and again — by changing how the country uses energy.

What we don’t stop and ponder enough, though, is that the country is changing how it uses energy. It’s certainly not enough to silence all environmental concerns. But nonetheless, the progress, when you sample it, is really impressive.

Such is the takeaway from a new report out by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which has just released its 2015 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook, prepared for the Business Council for Sustainable Energy. Looking back over recent years, the report shows that on any number of metrics, progress in clean energy has really been immense.

“There’s a trend already underway where these technologies are making progress and gaining share at the expense of technologies that have been there previously,” explains Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Michel Di Capua.

The proof? Just consider a few pretty impressive findings from the report:

1. The United States overall has seen nearly $ 400 billion in clean energy investment since 2007. 

Clean energy investment in the U.S., in billions of dollars. Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance/Business Council for Sustainable Energy

The United States still fell short of China in total clean energy investment last year, but overall investment in this country has been massive. As you can see in the figure above, compared with 2004, investment last year was higher by a factor of five.

2. Economic growth itself is getting cleaner.

Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance/Business Council for Sustainable Energy

The U.S. economy has rebounded strongly from the 2008-2009 economic downturn. And you would expect more growth to lead to more energy use, and more greenhouse gas emissions. And indeed, carbon emissions have started rising again. But overall, energy and economic growth don’t seem to be interacting in the same way they did before.

“With the growing economy, we are still seeing the energy productivity of the U.S. economy improving, and I think that’s extremely significant,” says Lisa Jacobson, president of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.

The figure above shows a measure of energy productivity: As GDP has increased since 1990, primary energy consumption has not kept pace. Indeed, the new report notes that from 2007 to 2014, electricity demand has actually been flat, despite the economic rebound. And over the same time period, overall carbon emissions coming from the energy sector declined by nine percent.

3. Wind and solar have achieved liftoff. 

Growth of U.S. wind energy in gigawatts. Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance/Business Council for Sustainable Energy

And the renewable energy story keeps getting better, too.

In 2007, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, renewable energy provided just seven percent of the nation’s total energy. By 2014 it had nearly doubled to 13 percent (estimated).

Much of this has been driven by the two most successful sectors, wind and solar. Those two have “more than tripled in capacity since 2008,” notes the report. And as this has happened, wind and solar have become increasingly cost-competitive.

Jan Deliz