WASHINGTON — The pandemic knocked the U.S. back on track to meet its targets in the Paris climate accord, and renewable energy saw a record-setting level of deployment in 2020 as coal consumption dwindled, figures from an independent report released Thursday show, while transportation emissions are expected to jump as the country gets the virus under control.
COVID-19, the virus that has dominated economic, social and political decisions around the world for nearly a year, dominated the energy, electricity and emissions landscapes last year too — taking a bite out of greenhouse gas emissions from the power grid, curbing emissions from vehicles and witnessing the highest record of new renewable energy to come online in a year.
“We can’t think of a crazier year than what happened in 2020,” said Paul Camuti, executive vice president and chief technology and strategy officer of Trane Technologies, a manufacturing company.
The report compiled by research organization BloombergNEF and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, an advocacy group, attaches data to those facts.
The figures arrive as the Biden administration is focusing on climate as an early priority and congressional Democrats are drafting a public works and infrastructure bill expected to contain low-carbon elements.
“Things were not looking great halfway through the year,” said Ethan Zindler, head of Americas at BloombergNEF, adding that renewable energy sources got off to a “dire” first half of 2020.
Yet the U.S. set a record in 2020 for the most wind and solar power built in a calendar year, thanks in part to federal tax incentives and guidance from the IRS in May that gave companies an extra year to complete their work and qualify for tax credits.
And the proportion of electricity generated from renewables including hydropower hit a record high of 20 percent, while coal dipped to just 19 percent, a trend likely to continue as the retirement of coal plants continues.
Greenhouse gas emissions “plummeted” in the U.S., the report authors found, down 9 percent from the previous year, 2019, and down 20 percent from 2005 levels. Emissions from transportation sources fell 40 percent below 2005 levels, placing the country on track to meet its obligations under the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal, a decision President Joe Biden moved to reverse on his first day in office.