Once Mighty Hydropower Falls Behind Other Renewables

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ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images

ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images

For decades, hydropower has been the chief source of clean and renewable energy in the United States, but new federal statistics show that it’s about to be eclipsed by other renewable sources.

A report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows that April 2014 was the eighth straight month in which “non-hydropower” surpassed hydropower. Solar, wind, and other alternatives were responsible for 7.4 percent of total electricity generation, just above hydropower’s 7 percent.

Just 10 years ago, hydropower produced three times more energy than other renewables, according to the report by the EIA, an arm of the U.S. Department of Energy. By 2013, it was still holding on to the lead: non-hydro sources generated only about 6.2 percent of all electricity in the United States, compared to hydropower’s 6.6 percent.

But the latest data available from the EIA shows that in the first five months of 2014, hydro and non-hydro have switched places. That gap is expected to keep growing because of the continuing decline in the cost of using non-hydro sources, their growing popularity for investors, and their annual growth in capacity, combined with a decline in the growth of hydropower.

The EIA concludes that non-hydropower probably will more than double the output of hydropower by 2040.

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