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Renewables Projected to Be One-Fourth of US Electricity Generation. Really Soon


By Dan Gearino, January 19, 2023

A new government report projects that wind, solar and other renewable sources will exceed one-fourth of the country’s electricity generation for the first time, in 2024. Based in the federal government’s Short Term Energy Outlook, a monthly report whose new edition is the first to include a forecast for 2024, authors in the Energy Information Administration (EIA) expect renewables to increase in market share, while natural gas and coal would both decrease.

From 2023 to 2024, renewables would rise from 24 percent to 26 percent of U.S. electricity generation; coal’s share would drop from 18 percent to 17 percent; gas would remain the leader but drop from 38 percent to 37 percent; and nuclear would be unchanged at 19 percent.

The growth in renewable energy is coming with wind responsible for about one-third of the growth and solar accounting for two-thirds. Other renewable sources, like hydropower and biomass, would be flat. In fact, the growth of wind and solar is projected to be so swift that the combination of just those two sources would be 18 percent vs. coal’s 17 percent of the U.S. total by 2024.

Renewable generation passed coal for the first time for a full year in 2020, made a comeback in 2021 and then retreated again in 2022. The ups and downs were largely from fluctuations in electricity demand during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report doesn’t indicate another coal comeback and that it is declining as many of its power plants are old and economically uncompetitive, continue to close, and developers aren’t building new ones because of concerns about high costs and emissions.

Also, if demand was rising more, then natural gas power would likely gain market share because of its plants’ ability to vary their output as needed to respond to changes in demand.

Eric Gimon, senior fellow at the think tank Energy Innovation, thinks the projected increases for wind and solar, while substantial, are still smaller than those resources are likely to grow. “My experience over the last 10 years is that the EIA tends to have flattish forecasts,” he said, meaning the federal office has underestimated the actual growth.

Some energy analysts have criticized EIA for being slow to recognize the growth of renewables. For example, the Annual Energy Outlook has numbers going out to mid-century. But the Short-Term Energy Outlook going one year out has been more reliable, so it should be read as the lower end of the range of potential increase for wind and solar.

For Gimon to be right, the wind and solar industries will need to figure out solutions to the challenges they’ve been having in obtaining parts; making progress in dealing with local opposition to many projects and in having enough interstate power lines to deliver the electricity. Plus, new policies like the Inflation Reduction Act will need to have their desired effect of encouraging projects through the use of tax incentives.

It’s not much of a stretch to imagine that clean energy industries will make progress on all those fronts.

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