As society continues to embrace renewable energy sources like solar, nuclear, wind, and hydro, the U.S. is taking advantage of these natural supplies more and more every year. Of the electricity our country currently produces, around one-third of it is created by renewable energy sources (according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration).
While coal and natural gas are two of the largest sources of energy for the U.S., around 4% of our electricity in 2013 came from wind turbines. According to the Global Wind Energy Council, the U.S. has almost 66,000 megawatts (MW) of installed wind power capacity, and many other countries have quickly followed suit: The top three being China (with over 100,000 MW of capacity) Spain, and India (each of which has over 22,000 MW).
As a country, we’ve been exceeding our own expectations of wind power production. The Department of Energy set a goal for 2018: to have 15 U.S. states with over 1,000 MW of wind power. We’ve already achieved this; by the end of 2013, there were 16 states with over 1,000 MW of wind power. Some, like Colorado, Iowa, and Texas, even have over 5,000 MW.
In addition to wind power, the U.S. has also taken advantage of the sun’s energy and has been increasing its use of solar power. The U.S. currently has the largest solar power plants in the world. These include the 550-MW Desert Sunlight Solar Farm and the 550-MW Topaz Solar Farm (both in southern California) and the 377-MW Ivanpah Solar Thermal Power Facility in the Mojave Desert.
In addition, many individual homeowners are installing solar panels on their homes to produce their own electricity and reduce their dependence on local utilities.
Nuclear and Hydro Power
In the U.S., our most popular uses of renewable energy come in the form of nuclear power and hydro power. These two sources make up 19% and 7% (respectively) of our total electricity generation.
Nuclear power has grown in popularity because it’s the only emission-free electricity source that can be widely expanded to meet the growing demand for electricity (which is predicted to rise 28% by 2040). Right now, the U.S. is home to more than 60 commercially operating nuclear power plants and has at least five more under construction with many others proposed.
Meanwhile, the use of hydro power has increased nearly 20% since 1980. Because of the impacts that dams have on wildlife and the surrounding areas, as well as their high construction costs, the EIA predicts that hydro power use will stay relatively steady. Wind power and solar power, however, will continue to grow.