EGEB: Clean energy was second-most prevalent US electricity source in 2020

In today’s Electrek Green Energy Brief (EGEB):

  • In 2020, clean energy sources generated 21% of all US electricity.
  • A judge rules that the largest known lithium resource in the US can be excavated.
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Clean energy comes in second

In 2020, clean energy sources – wind, hydroelectric, solar, biomass, and geothermal – generated a record 834 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity, or about 21% of all US electricity, reports the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Only natural gas (1,617 billion kWh) produced more electricity than clean energy last year in the US.

Clean energy surpassed both nuclear (790 billion kWh) and coal (774 billion kWh) for the first time in 2020. This happened because of significantly less coal use in US electricity generation and a steady increase of wind and solar.

Coal dropped 20% and renewables rose 9%. Wind, currently the most prevalent source of US clean energy, grew 14% in 2020 from 2019. Utility-scale solar (projects greater than 1 megawatt) increased 26%, and small-scale solar, such as rooftop solar, increased 19%.

But it’s going to get worse before it gets better when it comes to transitioning away from fossil fuels. The EIA forecasts:

We expect coal-fired electricity generation to increase in the United States during 2021 as natural gas prices continue to rise and as coal becomes more economically competitive. Based on forecasts in our Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), we expect coal-fired electricity generation in all sectors in 2021 to increase 18% from 2020 levels before falling 2% in 2022. We expect US renewable generation across all sectors to increase 7% in 2021 and 10% in 2022. As a result, we forecast coal will be the second-most prevalent electricity source in 2021, and renewables will be the second-most prevalent source in 2022. We expect nuclear electric power to decline 2% in 2021 and 3% in 2022 as operators retire several generators.

US lithium excavation

Chief Judge Miranda Du of the federal court in Reno, Nevada, ruled late last week that Vancouver, Canada-headquartered Lithium Americas Corp can conduct excavation work at its Thacker Pass pre-feasibility stage lithium mine site in Humboldt County, Nevada.

Du denied a request from environmentalists who said the digging could hurt wildlife. Du said environmentalists “failed to meet their burden to show they will be irreparably harmed,” according to Reuters.

Du will further determine whether the land is historically important for Native Americans, and said she will try to publish her final decision by early 2022.

Thacker Pass is the largest known lithium resource in the US. The land in question is less than a quarter of an acre, and Du said that impacted her decision. The project is around 18,000 acres. Check out Lithium Americas’ short video about Thacker Pass below:

Lithium is a key metal in lithium-ion electric vehicle batteries, and ethical sourcing needs to be prioritized as demand for metals and minerals grow in the move toward electrification to fight climate change.

Read more: The US has to mine more minerals to meet EV, clean energy demands

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Avatar for Michelle Lewis Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in White River Junction, Vermont. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at Check out her personal blog.