The impressive numbers for renewable energy in 2015 keep coming.
Just as there has been a tipping point globally in clean energy, the same is true in the U.S., according to new figures from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE).
The fourth annual Sustainable Energy in America Factbook highlights the record year for utility-scale and distributed solar, huge gains for wind energy, and a shift away from coal toward natural gas (which has a smaller carbon footprint although it is hardly clean). The result is an energy industry that is decarbonizing across the board.
As in every other year of the study, “the one common thing is change, writ large,” said Ethan Zindler, head of the Americas unit at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
One of the most significant pieces of the report is the data on prices and decarbonization. As stakeholders debate the cost of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, this new study shows that decarbonizing the U.S. economy has not led to higher power prices in many regions.
Much of the decline in wholesale power prices in recent years has been driven by cheap natural gas. But that did not translate into lower retail prices everywhere. While wholesale prices were down as much as 36 percent in New York in the past decade, retail prices were down only about 16 percent in the state.
The retail cost drop in New York is considerable compared to the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, which also saw wholesale price drops in the past decade. At the same time, retail prices actually climbed 17 percent. On average, however, retail prices are below the 2008 peak, while 2015 saw an average decrease of retail prices of about 1.3 percent.
Natural gas is not the only fuel affecting wholesale and retail power prices. Wind transmission is bringing more wind where it is needed, and plans for additional transmission have the ability to bring prices down further, especially in the Midwest.
"Wind power is two-thirds cheaper than it was six years ago, and after installing 8 gigawatts of clean wind energy last year, we’re going to keep this American success story going," Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, said in a statement.
In Texas, wind curtailment fell from a peak of 17 percent in 2009 to 0.5 percent in 2014, thanks to the build-out of the Competitive Renewable Energy Zone transmission line, according to the Factbook. “Transmission is getting better and better every year,” said Rob Gramlich, SVP of government and public affairs for the American Wind Energy Association.
Along with better wind delivery, robust energy-efficiency policies, such as decoupling utility revenue from kilowatts sold and energy-efficiency resource standards, are also helping to keep power prices down without affecting the economy.
The study found that the U.S. economy has grown 10 percent since 2007, but energy consumption has fallen by 2.4 percent. For 2015, electric load growth was less than 1 percent, but last year’s GDP is projected at 2.4 percent.
"As we consider the post-Paris world, we should acknowledge that we've entered a new era here in the United States,” Lisa Jacobson, president of the BCSE, said in a statement. “We now have both the tools and the capacity to achieve carbon reductions and cost savings along with economic growth. Now our job is to continue to build on the progress we've made."