- March 1, 2019: Vol. 6, Number 3

Clean energy’s quiet revolution

by Emily Kaldjian and Priya Barua

The public perception of U.S. clean energy has undergone a major shift. In a recent survey, 70 percent of respondents said America should produce 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources; more than half thought renewables were a good idea even if they raise energy bills.

The change in perception could be a reflection of recent changes to the U.S. energy industry itself. While it didn’t garner much attention, the United States saw unprecedented growth in renewable energy purchasing, development and commitments in 2018. Here’s a look at the quiet clean energy revolution happening across the country:

Record corporate renewable energy purchasing: U.S. corporations have spurred a global movement toward purchasing renewable energy over the past decade, and 2018 was a banner year. U.S. companies purchased a record 6.43 gigawatts (GW) of renewable power, enough to power more than 1.5 million American homes each year, and more than double the previous record of 3.22 GW in 2015.

U.S. cities make ambitious commitments to renewables: In the absence of a federal renewable energy push, local governments are taking matters into their own hands. More than 300 U.S. cities, towns or counties have made commitments to climate action. As of November 2018, 99 U.S. cities have committed to 100 percent renewable energy, up from just 50 cities a year ago. Of these, six U.S. cities (Aspen, Colo.; Burlington, Vt.; Georgetown, Texas; Greensburg, Kan.; Kodiak Island, Alaska; and Rockport, Mo.) have already met their 100 percent renewable energy goals.

Clean power champions take office: Many gubernatorial candidates who ran on ambitious renewable platforms were victorious in the midterm elections. Here are a few examples:

  • Illinois’s new governor, J.B. Pritzker, has called for the state to reach 50 percent renewables by 2025, doubling the current standard, and 100 percent renewables by 2050.
  • Colorado’s Jared Polis ran on a platform advocating for 100 percent renewable energy by 2040, along with programs to expand distributed energy resources and efficiency.
  • New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Graham’s plan calls for 50 percent renewables by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040.
  • Maine Gov. Janet Mills endorsed a 100 percent clean energy goal by 2050 and is an advocate for expanding distributed generation.
  • Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak pinned his energy plan to a successful clean energy ballot initiative, which would amend the state’s constitution to mandate 50 percent renewables by 2050.

Utilities actively plan for a clean energy future: U.S. utilities are responding to this increased demand for clean, modern energy. Michigan-based utility Consumers Energy announced in February 2018 it will cut carbon emissions by 80 percent and stop using coal, as well as produce 40 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2040. This is a significant commitment from a utility that has traditionally relied primarily on coal. In May, Iowa-based MidAmerican Energy, which serves 770,000 customers, announced it will become the first U.S. utility to source 100 percent of its customers’ electricity needs from renewable energy upon the 2020 completion of a new wind farm. In December, Xcel Energy, one of the biggest U.S. utilities, became the first to commit to go completely carbon-free by 2050. Minneapolis-based Xcel serves 3.6 million customers across eight states. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

More momentum for U.S. clean energy: While fossil fuels are still the dominant energy source, recent renewable energy advances point to a distinctive shift in the U.S. energy system. Today, renewables provide 17 percent of total electricity generation. Projections indicate that wind, solar and storage can meet 80 percent of U.S. energy needs by 2050. We expect that the quiet clean energy revolution will only pick up more steam in 2019.


Emily Kaldjian is communications manager and Priya Barua a senior manager for utility innovation at the World Resources Institute. This article was originally published on and can be accessed at

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