by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
For all of the attention and federal funds given to renewable energy, it remains a blip on America’s energy radar: solar power represents less than 1 percent of U.S. electricity generation. Wind and solar power together generated less electricity in the first half of 2015 than in the first half of 2014, and investment in the industry has been flat for almost five years, domestically and globally.
U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have fallen significantly since their peak in 2007—more than in any other country. The biggest cause is America’s fracking-led natural gas boom: solar power is responsible for 1 percent of the decline in U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions; natural gas is responsible for nearly 20 percent.
Cass says the energy picture is unlikely to change any time soon.
Notwithstanding frequent reports that renewable-energy production in the U.S. is “rising at an exponential rate,” its growth has stalled. Since achieving a 60 percent year-over-year increase in 2008, growth in total wind and solar generation has been consistently slowing: 33 percent in 2009, 28 percent in 2010, 27 percent in 2011, 19 percent in
2012, 22 percent in 2013, and 13 percent in 2014—the lowest since 2003. Total generation of wind and solar power actually fell in the first half of 2015 compared with the first half of 2014. Solar continued to grow, but the rate of growth fell by more than half, while wind generation fell in absolute terms.
The growth in new renewable-energy investment has ended, too. In each of the first three quarters of 2015, global investment was below the equivalent quarter in 2014 and below the peak achieved in 2011. This slowdown has afflicted both solar and wind: in the third quarter of 2015, wind and solar investments declined from the third quarter of 2014. Production of solar panels leveled off in recent years as well, growing only 4 percent annually during 2011–13. In the U.S., 2015 investment is above the 2014 level but remains well below its 2011 peak.
Headlines may continue to herald each new renewable installation as a paradigm shift. Analyst reports may continue to celebrate new, hypothetically low-cost, technologies. But energy observers who have to put their money where their mouths are will continue to take a much more cautious approach.