Six energy milestones of 2020
- February 1, 2021: Vol. 8, Number 2

Six energy milestones of 2020

by Mike Consol

2020 will be a year that lives in the minds of energy business executives for decades to come. For traditional energy executives, it will be a year of infamy; for clean-energy executives, a year when renewables demonstrated resilience and staying power in the face of uncertainty.

Sarah Golden, senior energy analyst and VERGE Energy Chair at GreezBiz Group, pinpointed six “mind-bending moments” during 2020 — six times the self-proclaimed clean energy evangelist says she had to “pick my jaw up off the floor.” Without further ado:

The day the price of oil went negative: At the end of April, for the first time in history, the price for an oil futures contract dipped below zero. In other words, the owner of the contract was willing to pay traders to take oil off their hands. It was almost impossible to imagine just months earlier. It was a day when Rebecca Babin, managing director at CIBC Private Wealth Management, told CNBC: “It was a take-your-breath-away kind of scary moment.”

That time we found out wildfires offset emission gains: If it weren’t for the coronavirus pandemic, we might remember 2020 as the year of the wildfire. The year started with Australia engulfed in flames, creating so much smoke that scientists are categorizing it on a “volcanic scale” that blocked some of the sun’s rays for months. The wildfire season on the west coast of the United States was apocalyptic, with hazardous air quality spanning Mexico to Canada for a month. San Francisco’s sky turned orange.

The moment when renewables were declared “immune to COVID-19”: Despite the pandemic’s devastating impact on the economy and much of the energy sector, renewable energy had a great year, as renewable power generation rose around 7 percent for the year, even as global electricity demand fell 2 percent. During the months of June, July, August and October, 100 percent of all new utility-scale capacity built was from renewable sources. What’s more, wind and solar posted record additions to their capacity.

That time NextEra was worth more than Exxon: Seven years ago, ExxonMobil was the most valuable company in America. In October, NextEra Energy, the world’s biggest wind and solar developer, surpassed the oil major in market capitalization.

That time localities said “no more” to natural gas in buildings: 2020 might be remembered as the tipping point for electrification of buildings, with dozens of states and cities embracing policies to transition away from natural gas. That clears the way for a new generation of all-electric buildings with appliances — gas stoves, dryers, water heaters and space heaters — that can run on clean energy.

That time a president ran — and won — on climate: During the 2016 presidential election, climate change “didn’t get a single question during four presidential debates,” Golden writes. “Four years later, the majority [68 percent] of registered voters in the United States said climate was a voting issue, even in key swing states.” Today, opinion polls show U.S. citizens are four times more likely to be alarmed by climate change than to dismiss it.

Read the complete GreenBiz report with charts at this link:


Mike Consol ( is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter @mikeconsol to read his latest postings.

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