Proponents of renewable energy have a reason to celebrate the latest stats on electricity generation in the United States. On July 6, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) announced that renewable sources generated more electricity than nuclear plants in the months of March and April.
This is a milestone for renewable energy in the United States, which has lagged behind nuclear power since 1984.
The stats reflect both seasonal trends and the overall growth of solar, wind, and hydroelectricity in recent years.
How Renewables Surpassed Nuclear
Nuclear power makes up about 20% of energy output in the United States. Though it is less harmful to the environment than fossil fuels like coal and oil, nuclear power is not a renewable source. The production of nuclear energy also raises environmental and safety concerns.
The new numbers on energy production don’t mean nuclear power is in decline. The EIA notes that it’s normal for monthly nuclear generation to decline in the spring, as many plants go offline for maintenance and refueling in the spring and fall. However, it does reflect a shift that shows renewable energy can make up the difference as we begin to move away from fossil fuels.
Monthly renewable energy production has set new records in 2017, with spikes in utility-scale solar and wind installations. That’s in part because solar and wind are more affordable than ever to produce. Hydroelectricity also saw a 14% jump in production this year, owing to increased rainfall in California.
The EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook predicts that nuclear will catch up to and surpass renewable power later this year. However, renewable’s record-breaking spring may be more than a blip in the radar. Net generation from nuclear power has been relatively flat since the late 1900’s, as companies and governments move their investments towards clean, sustainable sources of energy.
Expect to see renewable energy reclaim its title again in the future.
How Does Canada Compare?
Nuclear power accounts for about 22% of Canada’s total primary energy production. There are six nuclear power plants in Canada, five of which are in Ontario. The Bruce generating station stands as the largest operating nuclear power plant in the world.
However, much of Canada’s nuclear infrastructure is aging. The government of Ontario plans to invest $25 billion in the nuclear energy over the next 15 years to extend the life of 10 nuclear reactors.
In contrast, renewable energy (including hydro, wind, tidal, solar, biomass, and geothermal power) makes up 63% of Canada’s net electricity generation. Most of this (65%) comes from hydroelectricity, but wind and solar are making gains in Canada.