BNEF: The 2010s were a decade of US energy transformation and economic growth

The U.S. overhauled how it produces, delivers, and consumes energy
over a momentous decade of change, according to a new report from BloombergNEF
(BNEF) and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE). In the process,
the U.S. posted 10 straight years of economic growth, while cutting both
power-sector CO2 emissions and consumer energy costs to their lowest levels in
a generation.

The eighth edition of the Sustainable
Energy in America Factbook
published by BNEF and the BCSE chronicles a
profound transformation in U.S. energy that is still very much underway. The
report, which includes over 130 slides, provides users with straightforward
charts to understand how the change has impacted most segments of the energy
sector.

Utility-scale renewables were just emerging in 2009, and now they
win generation contracts on economic grounds. Battery technology is one tenth
of its cost in 2009. Today, there are nearly over 85 million “smart meters” in
U.S. homes and businesses, up from 9.6 million a decade ago. The number of
residential natural gas customers grew by 8% in the last decade while overall
residential consumption of gas rose by 5% due to energy efficiency. Consumers
are now spending record low proportions of their household budgets on energy
costs, a 22% decline since 2009.

 “The transformation we have
seen in the last decade has far exceeded expectations,” said Lisa Jacobson,
BCSE President. “The facts show that we grew the economy, improved energy
security, and cut emissions at the same time – all while making energy more
affordable to consumers.”

The 2020 Factbook showcases the impact of sustainable energy (which
includes renewable and natural gas-fired energy, as well as energy
efficiency and energy storage) over the last decade and highlights findings for 2019 that follow
the macro trends of the 2010s:

  • Renewable energy became the cheapest new generation source in many
    U.S. power markets. The U.S. has over 2 times more renewable power generating
    capacity today than a decade ago. Solar capacity in 2019 was 80 times greater
    than what it was at the end of 2009.
  • Energy efficiency choices have proliferated, with federal programs
    helping high-efficiency appliances reach mass markets and state codes
    bolstering building efficiency.
  • The economy grew every year in the past decade and energy use fell
    in five of the ten years. U.S. energy productivity (GDP/energy consumption)
    improved 18% between 2010 and 2019, benefiting businesses and households.
  • Natural gas became the primary source of U.S. power generation and
    shifted the scales in the global market. Between 2010 and 2019 domestic natural
    gas production jumped 50%, and natural gas went from providing 24% of the
    nation’s electricity to 38%. The U.S. increased its export capacity to exceed
    its import capacity, building stronger trade relationships around the world. In
    2019, the U.S. exported more gas than it imported.

“Technological innovation plus economies of scale are revolutionizing
the energy world,” said Ethan Zindler, BloombergNEF’s head of Americas. “The
idea that energy must be dirty to be cheap is simply a myth.”

Figure
1: Percentage of U.S. electricity generation, by fuel group

Source: BloombergNEF

Figure 2: Growth of U.S. GDP, primary energy consumption and
energy productivity (as a multiple of 1990 levels)

Source: BloombergNEF

“Emerging trends for sustainable energy are proliferating consumer
choice and empowerment. Digitalization and the Internet of Things have made
people more aware of their energy use, as the options for efficient products
and services are also expanding,” Ms. Jacobson added.

The fact that 18 regulated utilities offer a green tariff for customers to choose cleaner electricity and that nine states have taken actions to offer voluntary tariffs for renewable natural gas to homes and businesses, shows that customers are asking for cleaner options. Meanwhile, corporate renewables procurement has surged. Virtually non-existent a decade ago, U.S. companies have signed contracts with wind and solar projects totaling 33.6GW as of year-end 2019.

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