The clean energy economy is not often kitchen table conversation — but the turbulent energy market often made headlines in 2022. Supply chain disruptions, an international energy crisis, and rising interest rates elevated prices for key energy commodities, putting significant stress on the United States’ energy sector. Broken permitting processes have exacerbated delays and slowed deployment of new clean energy. Despite these difficulties, new data shows that progress in the clean energy sector stayed resilient through 2022.
According to the newly released 2023 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook from the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE) and BloombergNEF, 2022 was historic in terms of clean energy benchmarks and laudable policy achievements. Despite daunting obstacles, power generation from renewable sources hit a record, consumers purchased nearly 1 million new electric vehicles, and federal legislation allocated at least $369 billion in support of clean energy technologies. The trend is clear: the clean energy sector is now hard-wired into the U.S. economy, reviving American industry with new jobs and revenue and enhancing national security with resilient energy systems.
2022 was a record-breaking year for private clean energy investment, with global financing for decarbonization technologies exceeding $1 trillion. In the United States, investment in clean energy rose 11 percent in just one year to $141 billion. Given that capital invested today will yield results tomorrow, the private funds raised in 2022 foreshadow considerable new build and progress on key technologies for years to come.
Driven by surges in output from wind and solar, as well as growth in hydropower production, renewable generation rose at the fastest pace to provide 23 percent of U.S. electricity. Despite high natural gas prices, coal-fired output fell sharply, with renewable generation ultimately outpacing coal. Together, renewables and natural gas account for 62 percent total U.S. power generation.
The clean energy economy was also driven by investment in innovative decarbonization technologies. Sales of electric and fuel cell vehicles hit 982,000 in 2022, up 50 percent from 2021. The United States set a record for energy storage with 4.8 gigawatts (GW) added, an increase from 3.7 GW in 2021, and post-Inflation Reduction Act commitments to the North American battery supply chain reached almost $17 billion by the end of 2022. The growth of these industries comes with job development, increased success for American businesses, and a boost to our international competitiveness.
Nevertheless, the data confirm that further decarbonization must accelerate more rapidly for the world to avoid the worst climate impacts. 2022 was the third most costly climate disaster year on record, with 18 climate-related disasters in the United States causing at least $1 billion in damage apiece over the 12 months. These disasters revealed the gaps in America’s energy security and once again demonstrated the need for resilient energy systems.
The United States is headed in the right direction. Economy-wide emissions have trended downward since 2005. Despite U.S. emissions inching up 1 percent last year, total 2022 emissions were still three percent below pre-pandemic levels. This suggests that some of the emissions reductions made in 2020 have persisted, especially in the power and transportation sectors. Emissions reductions and resiliency improvements are already set to advance due to federal clean energy and energy efficiency investments in 2021 and 2022. Now, the question is how fast we can move.
Speeding up new clean energy projects will require reforms to federal permitting processes. New data compiled in the Factbook reveals a large majority of infrastructure projects take between two to six years to complete. These delays prevent the modernization and enhanced resilience of critical assets, putting our energy security and international competitiveness in jeopardy. BCSE and CRES urge policymakers to pursue commonsense, bipartisan permitting reforms to efficiently deliver clean energy across the country.
Investing in clean, American energy is the smart choice to improve our nation’s security and strengthen our economy. The 2023 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook reveals that there’s no turning back on the clean energy future. Through efficient federal policy implementation and permitting reform, we can reduce emissions, boost the U.S. economy, and bring clean, affordable, homegrown energy to Americans nationwide.
Heather Reams is the president of Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES). Lisa Jacobson is the president of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE).