By - Jim Vess

Renewable generation temporarily overtakes coal-fired generation in April, the EIA says

Energize Weekly, July 3, 2019

Renewable electricity generation surpassed coal-fired generation for the first time in April, according to the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA). Renewable generation accounted for 23 percent of electricity generation in April compared to 20 percent for coal.

“This outcome reflects both seasonal factors as well as long-term increases in renewable generation and decreases in coal generation,” the EIA said.

The spring and fall are when electricity consumption is lowest as demand for heating or cooling is moderate, and as a result electricity generation from baseload natural gas, coal and nuclear plants are often at their lowest points. As a result, it is a time that plants are often taken offline for maintenance.

In its estimate of renewable generation, the EIA included utility-scale hydropower, wind, solar, geothermal and biomass.

There was record wind generation during April, 30.2 million megawatt-hours (MWh), and near-record solar generation, including utility-scale solar and solar thermal, of 7.8 million MWh.

Seasonal increases in hydropower also helped renewables surpass coal, as spring brings melting snowpack in the West that increases water flow for downstream generators. Hydropower accounted for 25 million MWh of electricity in April. Conventional hydroelectric continues to be the single largest source of renewable energy in most months.

Meanwhile, renewable generating capacity continues to grow each year. In 2018, about 15 gigawatts (GW) of wind and solar generating capacity came online.

At the same time, coal-fired generation continues to decline. Since the beginning of 2015, about 47 GW of domestic coal-fired capacity has been shuttered, and hardly any new coal plants have come online. The EIA is projecting another 4.1 GW of capacity closing in 2019, equal to half of all the expected power plant closures for the year.

The EIA is forecasting that coal’s share of generation will continue to decline from 27 percent in 2018 to 24 percent in 2019 and 23 percent in 2020. EIA expects renewables, including renewables fuels, to provide 18 percent of the country’s electricity in 2019 and 20 percent in 2020.

Coal will provide more electricity than renewables for the U.S. for the remaining months in 2019 and in 2020. The agency, however, expects renewables to overtake nuclear generation in 2020.

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