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Five Clean Energy Trends To Watch In 2020

Tsvetana Paraskova

At the start of 2020, analysts bravely stepped out on a limb to predict how the turbulent energy market and energy systems will evolve at the beginning of the new decade.  

Clean energy and climate policy experts have shared in Forbes their forecasts for this year’s energy system in the United States with Silvio Marcacci, Communications Director for climate policy think tank Energy Innovation.

The five experts are optimistic that the U.S. is set to make important steps toward a cleaner energy mix this year. They see continued coal decline, the beginnings of shaming the notion of widespread natural gas use, the continued rise of solar power installations, fight for federal incentives for clean energy, and the ever-growing public awareness about climate change as the five factors to watch in the U.S. energy landscape in 2020.

  1. The Death of Coal

For one month last year, renewables held a larger share than coal in U.S. monthly electricity generation, for the first time ever, reflecting seasonal factors and longer-term trends such as coal’s decline and renewables’ rise.

Many coal-fired plants are under “significant economic pressure,” the EIA said last year, noting that cheaper gas and renewables have increased competition for economically viable installed capacity. Since 2010, U.S. power companies have announced the retirement of more than 546 coal-fired power units, totaling about 102 gigawatts (GW) of capacity, while another 17 GW of coal-fired capacity is planned to be retired by 2025.

Just last week, cooperative wholesale power supplier Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association announced the retirement of its remaining New Mexico coal-fired power plant by the end of 2020 and its remaining Colorado coal plants and coal mine by 2030.

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Experts predict that coal retirements will continue as more states, cities, and utilities will look to decarbonize the sources of their power supply.  

  1. Natural Gas Shaming

Clean energy and climate experts are now shaming the widespread household use of natural gas, which, although cleaner burning than coal, is still a fossil fuel contributing to carbon emissions.

Some experts predict that 2020 could be the ‘beginning of the end’ for natural gas use at homes as more cities are expected to ban gas hook-ups in new buildings.

In July 2019, the city council in Berkeley, California, passed an ordinance requiring all new homes to be all-electric with no gas hook-ups beginning in January 2020. Berkeley’s primary motivation for the gas hook-up ban was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote the use of clean energy.  

However, in the U.S. power generation mix, natural gas is going nowhere—it is the single biggest source of electricity generation and will continue to be such in the coming years, thanks to abundant and cheap domestic gas. Although regional trends vary, natural gas and wind will be the fastest-growing sources of electricity generation in the United States through 2020, at the expense of coal, the EIA said in September.

One tenth of total U.S. carbon emissions come from burning fossil fuels—primarily gas—for heating and cooking in homes and businesses,

Rocky Mountain Institute said in a report in 2019.

Commenting on the predictions for 2020, Rocky Mountain Institute’s Managing Director Bruce Nilles told Energy Innovation’s Marcacci:

“In 2020, watch this movement heed Greta Thunberg’s call to “start acting like our house is on fire” and exorcise gas from our communities just as we have done with coal.”

  1. The Rise of Solar

Falling costs have made possible the rise of renewable energy sources. According to research from Energy Innovation and Vibrant Clean

Energy from 2019, as much as 74 percent of America’s coal-fired national fleet, or 211 GW, was at risk in 2018 from local wind or solar within 35 miles that could provide the same amount of electricity more cheaply.

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Utility solar photovoltaic (PV) becomes increasingly cost-competitive with wind, gas, and other electricity generation resources, the Q4 2019 Solar Market Insight Report by the Solar Energy Industries Association

(SEIA) and Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables showed

According to SEIA, climate policy, investment tax credit extension, state net energy metering, building codes, and renewable portfolio standards will all drive solar energy growth in the 2020s, which could be the Solar+ decade.

Cost reductions and encouraging policies could make solar the pillar of a clean energy economy, SEIA’s President and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper says.

  1. Clean Energy Incentives

The American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) has vowed to work this year to fight for federal policies encouraging additional deployment of clean energy sources and supporting energy storage technologies.

“We need to repair a tax code that phases out renewable energy tax incentives, even as century-old incentives for fossil fuels remain untouched. Completing this unfinished business is a key priority for ACORE and a broad coalition of bipartisan allies in 2020,” Gregory Wetstone, President and CEO of the council told Energy Innovation’s Marcacci.  

  1. Growing Public Mobilization On Climate   

According to Leah Stokes, Assistant Professor at the University of California-Santa Barbara Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, regardless of the progress in renewable sources deployment in the United States in 2020, the public awareness about climate change and climate issues will only increase, especially if the Trump Administration rolls back other environmental regulations.  

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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