By - Jim Vess

Renewable generation set to surpass coal-fired generation for April and May

Energize Weekly, May 8, 2019

Renewable energy generation in April and May will put more electricity on the gird than coal-fired power plants, according to the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA).

It is the first time on record that renewable power sources—hydro, biomass, wind, solar and geothermal—have surpassed coal-fired generation, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) said.

The EIA estimates that renewable sources will generate 2,322 thousand megawatt-hours (MWh) a day in April and 2,271 thousand MWh a day in May. Coal-fired plants are expected to generate 1,997 thousand MWh a day in April and 2,239 thousand MWh a day in May.

There are about 240 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired capacity in the U.S. Coal plants are usually taken offline in the spring or fall, when electricity demand is lower for maintenance and upgrades. The spring is also usually the period for highest hydroelectric generation output.

“Coal’s proponents may dismiss these monthly and quarterly ups and downs in generation share as unimportant,” the IEEFA said, “but we believe they are indicative of the fundamental disruption happening across the electric generation sector.”

Natural gas-fired generation first surpassed coal-fired plants in 2015, and for a few years, the two traded back and forth the position as top generating source.

By 2018, however, natural gas accounted for 35 percent of generation while coal’s share was down to 27 percent. A trend that is expected to continue.

The electric power sector is slated to lose another 7 GW of coal-fired capacity by 2020. Coal production is set to drop 9 percent in 2019 to 684 million tons compared to 2018.

Meanwhile renewable generation’s share is set to rise to 18 percent of total production in 2018 and nearly 20 percent with wind generation surpassing hydroelectric as the main renewable generating source, the EIA said.

The agency forecasts that renewables will from time to time surpass coal-fired generation in 2019 and 2020.

“Renewable generation is catching up to coal, and faster than forecast,” the IEEFA said.

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