A new report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, produced for the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, concludes that "It is a new era for American energy," as a "revolution transform[s] how the US produces, delivers, and consumes energy." A few highlights from the 158-page, "Sustainable Energy in America Factbook" for 2016 include:
- 2015 was a "a watershed year in the evolution of US energy." The "rapid de-carbonization of the US power sector accelerated," economic growth increasingly decoupled from energy demand, and "US power sector CO2 emissions fell to their lowest annual level since the mid-1990s." These shifts do not appear to be "temporary adjustments due to one-time events," but "likely permanent shifts."
- The net impact on consumers from these shifts was "negligible to positve." Among other benefits, "prices for electricity and fuel remained low by historic standards and customer choices expanded."
- Major policy developments in 2015 helped keep the U.S. on track towards decarbonization. These included finalization of the U.S. Clean Power Plan, adoption of the "Paris Agreement" on reining in greenhouse gas emissions, and extension of key wind and solar tax credits.
- The U.S. power grid is changing rapidly, with "greater penetration of renewables and growth in distributed resources such as solar PV and storage."
- Energy efficiency investments are paying off. For instance, "Energy productivity – the ratio of US GDP to energy consumed – continues to grow, improving by 2.3% from 2014 to 2015 following a 1.1% increase the previous year." Also, electricity demand is increasingly "decoupling" from economic growth, as "electric load growth in 2015 clocked in at only 0.5%, compared to a projected 2.4% increase in GDP."
- Clean energy scaling continues to accelerate. "Wind build was 65% above 2014 levels;" while "PV additions across both the distributed and utility-scale sectors set new records as 2.9GW and 4.4GW, respectively, connected to the grid."
- Corporate America is increasing its adoption of clean energy. "In 2015 alone, corporations contracted 3.1GW of new renewable capacity," with large corporate buyers including "Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple," among many others.
- State energy policy remains crucial. Battles over net energy metering (NEM), Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and Energy Efficiency Resource Standards (EERS) are underway in the states, with some states (e.g., California, New York) moving in a positive direction, and other states (e.g., Nevada, West Virginia) moving backwards.
- Low oil prices seem to be the "new normal." This trend is having mixed impacts on cleantech, with low gasoline prices having "dented sales of alternatively-fueled vehicles in 2015," while "sales of battery electric vehicles (BEV) proved resilient," oil and gas producers reduced drilling activity, and grid parity for renewable energy sources could become "that much more difficult to achieve." On the other hand, wind and solar power costs keep falling, making them more competitive with low fossil fuel prices.
- Grid transformation "continues to lag the rapid build-out of renewable technologies in some regions of the country." For instance, "Transmission constraints in high wind-build areas such as the Midwest, for example, have led to the curtailment of generation from zero-carbon sources."
- Distributed generation is growing rapidly. For instance, "2015 was yet another record year for distributed solar PV in the US, with 2.9GW of new build due to growth in both the commercial and residential sectors."
- Behind-the-meter storage "has grown in popularity among commercial and industrial players" in several states. Among other developments, "utilities such as Southern California Edison, Con Edison, and the Hawaiian Electric Company have begun to explore aggregated distributed storage (sometimes with solar)," and "aggregated storage bid successfully into California's real-time power market; the technology can also provide grid services."
All in all, it's an exciting time to be part of the U.S. cleantech industry, with the vast majority of trends pointing in a positive direction. Reports like this new one by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy make that point abundantly clear.