Synapse Electricity Snapshot 2021

The Synapse Electricity Snapshot 2021 highlights several major trends in 2020 electric sector capacity, generation, CO2 emissions, and related statistics. Our key findings include the following:

  • Renewable capacity (wind, solar, and geothermal) in the United States is now at 173 gigawatts (GW), exceeding both hydro and nuclear capacity. Renewables are the third-largest resource on a capacity basis, behind natural gas and coal. Together, non-CO2-emitting generating capacity makes up 31% of the nationwide total and accounts for 38% of all generation.
  • Retirement of old and uneconomic coal plants, coupled with the low marginal costs of other resources like gas, wind, and solar, has led to the lowest level of coal generation since 1972.
  • As in 2018 and 2019, in 2020, natural gas generation surpassed coal generation every month.
  • Except for December, every month in 2020 set a record for the lowest level of observed monthly coal generation since the late 1970s. For the first time since the early 1970s, coal generation dropped below 800 TWh per year. Coal now makes up less than one-fifth of electricity generation in the United States.
  • From 2019 to 2020, annual sales decreased by 4%, likely due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Electric-sector CO2 emissions dropped by 11% from 2019 to 2020. This is the largest annual decrease in CO2 emissions ever observed.
  • Since reaching an all-time peak in 2007, electric sector CO2 emissions have declined to 1,442 million metric tons in 2020, their lowest level since the 1970s.
  • Since 1990, CO2 emitted per dollar of GDP has decreased by 59% , from 0.17 to 0.07 kg per dollar.

For more insight into the latest electric-sector data, read the Synapse Electricity Snapshot 2021.