A rise in U.S. renewable generation to reduce fossil-fuel electricity in coming years
Energize Weekly, January 26, 2022
Generation from renewable energy sources, primarily wind and solar, will reduce fossil-fuel generation over the next two years in the U.S., even as the country’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are set to rise, according to analyses by the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA).
The share of renewable electricity generation, excluding hydropower, is projected to increase to 17 percent in 2023 from 13 percent in 2021. During the same period, the share of natural gas-fired generation will drop to 34 percent from 37 percent. Coal’s share will tick down to 22 percent from 23 percent of total electricity generation.
“One of the most significant shifts in the mix of U.S. electricity generation over the past 10 years has been the rapid expansion of renewable energy resources, especially solar and wind,” the EIA said. “The amount of solar power generating capacity operated by the U.S. electric power sector at the end of 2021 is 20 times more than it was at the end of 2011, and U.S. wind power capacity is more than twice what it was 10 years ago.”
At the same time renewable generating capacity has been increasing, there has been a steady decline in coal-fired capacity from its 2007 peak. About 30 percent of electric sector coal-fired capacity, about 89 gigawatts (GW), has been retired since 2010, and no new coal-fired capacity has come online since 2013.
Those coal retirements, in part, were the result of a sharp rise in the use of natural gas, which enjoyed sustained low prices. Natural gas prices, however, increased sharply in 2021, more than doubling over 2020 prices to $4.88 per million British thermal units.
The result of the price swings was a sharp decline of natural gas generation in 2021, while coal ticked up – the first increase since 2014.
“We forecast that most of the growth in U.S. electricity generation in 2022 and 2023 will come from new renewable energy sources,” the EIA said.
The agency estimates the electric power sector had 63 GW of existing solar power generating capacity operating at the end of 2021 and forecasts that to grow by about 21 GW in 2022 and 25 GW in 2023.
Wind generating capacity is projected to grow by 7 GW in 2022 and another 4 GW in 2023. Operating wind capacity totaled 135 GW at the end of 2021.
“Our forecast of growth in renewable electricity generation over the next two years leads to our forecast of a reduced need for fossil-fueled generation,” the EIA said. “Although we expect natural gas prices for electric generators to decline, the operating costs of renewable generators will continue to be generally lower than natural gas-fired units. We expect that regions of the country with the largest increases in renewable capacity, such as Texas and the Midwest/Central regions, will experience the largest reductions in natural gas generation.”
Nevertheless, the agency is forecasting a rise in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2022 and 2023, though they will remain below 2019 levels.
In 2020, as economies were roiled by the COVID pandemic, the nation’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions dropped 11 percent. With the economy returning to pre-pandemic levels, the EIA said there will be about a 2 percent increase in emissions in 2022 and that they will remain at that level in 2023.