Renewables Likely Top 25% of US Electricity and 30% of Generating by Year End 2024

by Ken Bossong, Executive Director – SUN DAY Campaign

Data recently released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) confirm that solar and wind are poised to experience significant growth this year and for at least the next two or three years. They, combined with other renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, and hydropower), are on track to provide more than a quarter of the nation’s electricity by the end of 2024 as well as over 30 percent of installed U.S. generating capacity.  

EIA Forecasts Strong Growth for Solar and Wind This Year and Next:  

In its latest “Short-Term Energy Outlook” released in mid-July, EIA forecasts utility-scale solar to add 19 gigawatts (GW) in 2022 and 23-GW in 2023. In addition, EIA expects small-scale solar capacity to grow by 6-GW in 2022 and another 7-GW in 2023. EIA also foresees 11-GW of new wind capacity coming online in 2022 followed by 4-GW in 2023. [1]  

Primarily as a result of these increases in solar and wind generating capacity, EIA forecasts that the annual share of U.S. electricity generation from utility-scale  renewable energy sources will rise from 20% in 2021, to 22% in 2022, and to 24% in 2023. But keep in mind that these projections do not include the contribution from distributed (e.g., roof-top) solar which, when included, increases renewables’ share by one or two percentage points. Thus, EIA’s data suggest renewables could provide up to 24% of U.S. electricity generation this year and 25-26% by the end of 2024.  

EIA’s Latest Data Suggest Renewable Energy Growth Will Exceed Projections:  

If recent years are any guide, it’s likely that EIA’s near-term predictions will prove to be conservative.  

For example, in its latest “Electric Power Monthly” report (with data through May 31, 2022), EIA notes that electrical generation by utility-scale and small-scale (i.e. <1-MW) solar increased by 27.2% during the first five months of 2022 compared to the same period last year while wind expanded by 24.4%. Combined, electrical generation by wind and solar increased by 25.1% and accounted for more than one-sixth (17.0%) of U.S. electrical generation (wind- 12.18%, solar – 4.77%). [2] And for the first time ever, during April and May combined, the mix of just solar and wind produced more electricity than either the nation’s nuclear power plants or its coal plants.[3]  

Including hydropower, biomass, and geothermal, renewably-generated electricity grew by 18.1% and provided 25.7% of total U.S. electrical output during the first five months of 2022 – up from 22.9% a year earlier. [4] In April alone, renewables reached a record-high share of 29.3% of U.S. electrical generation, comfortably eclipsing both nuclear power and coal – each at 17.8% – and nipping at the tail of natural gas (34.2%).[5]  

FERC Anticipates Renewables Will Dominate Additions to Generating Capacity:  

The rapid expansion of solar and wind is also reflected in the latest issue of FERC’s “Energy Infrastructure Update” report, which revealed that solar and wind provided 81.0% of the domestic electrical generating capacity added in the first five months of 2022. [6] Contributing to this have been recently added facilities such as the 990-MW Traverse Wind Energy Project in Custer County, Oklahoma and the 298-MW Haystack Wind Project in Wayne County, Nebraska as well as the 156.5-MW Westlands Solar Park in Kings County, California [7] and the 195.5-MW Hickory Park Solar Farm in Mitchell County, Georgia.[8]  

Utility-scale solar is now 5.9% of total available installed generating capacity while wind accounts for another 11.2%. [9] For perspective, five years ago, solar and wind accounted for 2.3% and 7.2% respectively of generating capacity[10] while a decade ago, they were only 0.2% and 4.3%.[11]  

Combined with hydropower, biomass, and geothermal, renewables now represent 26.7% of all U.S. utility-scale generating capacity.[12]  

And that seems poised to grow significantly over the next two or three years.  

FERC says net “high probability” additions could increase wind capacity by another 18.7-GW by May 2025 while utility-scale solar could balloon with the addition of 62.8-GW (and that does not include new small-scale solar capacity which presently accounts for nearly 30% of all solar-generated electricity.) FERC further indicates that there may actually be as much as 72.2-GW of wind and 185.8-GW of solar in the near-term pipeline. Those figures could increase significantly inasmuch as FERC’s assessment of “pipeline” solar seems to expand with each passing month.  

If just the “high probability” additions were to come on-line, by mid-spring 2025, utility-scale renewables would be 31.7% of total U.S. generating capacity with wind and solar reaching 12.1% and 10.4% respectively. Assuming more-or-less steady-state growth over the next three years, utility-scale renewables (i.e., not including rooftop solar) would account for about 30% of the nation’s total installed generating capacity by the end of 2024.  

Renewables Are Also Expanding Their Share of Energy Production Beyond Electricity:  

Beyond electrical generation, solar, wind and other renewables are also expanding their contribution to energy use in the transportation, thermal, feedstocks, and other sectors. According to the latest issue of EIA’s “Monthly Energy Review” released in late July with data through April 30, 2022, renewable sources – including biofuels – accounted for 13.8% of U.S. energy production in the first quarter of this year. That is up from 12.9% a year earlier and from 11.7% in the first third of 2020. [13]  

While providing only 1.6% of total domestic energy production (as well as 1.6% of energy consumption) in the first four months of this year, solar has emerged as the fastest growing energy source – increasing by 27.6% over the past year. Wind was not far behind – expanding by 24.3%. [14]  

Will the Growth Trends Continue This Year and Next?  

Challenges such as the ongoing covid pandemic, grid access problems, economic uncertainty, and disruptions in global supply chains coupled with bad policy decisions at the federal or state levels could dampen the near-term prospects for solar and wind.  

For example, a recent report by the American Clean Power Association notes that the clean energy industry saw a 55 percent decline in project installations during the second quarter of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021. [15] That is consistent with recent FERC data which reveal no new wind capacity and only 316-MW of new utility-scale solar added in April [16] and just 132-MW of solar in May.[17]  

On the other hand, a new analysis by the Princeton University-led REPEAT Project, says implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act could accelerate solar deployment from 2020 rates of 10-GW of capacity added per year to nearly five times as much by 2024, adding 49-GW of utility-scale solar each year. In fact,  solar deployment could be well over 100-GW per year by 2030.    

[source: https://pv-magazine-usa.com/2022/08/04/princeton-solar-deployment-to-increase-fivefold-under-inflation-reduction-act%5D   &nbsp;

Overall, though, renewable energy growth trends over the last ten years, if not longer, as well as the generally strong start shown by solar and wind in the first half of 2022 still suggest that the clean energy transition will continue and accelerate in the near-term and beyond. Whether that proves sufficient in the near term to address the worsening impacts of climate change, though, remains to be seen.  

Sources:  

[1] https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/steo/report/electricity.php   &nbsp;

[2] https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.php?t=table_es1b &nbsp;

[3] https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.php?t=table_es1a  

[4] https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.php?t=table_es1b &nbsp;

[5] https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.php?t=table_es1a  

[6] https://cms.ferc.gov/media/energy-infrastructure-update-may-2022 &nbsp;

[7] https://cms.ferc.gov/media/energy-infrastructure-update-march-2022  

[8] https://cms.ferc.gov/media/energy-infrastructure-update-april-2022  

[9] https://cms.ferc.gov/media/energy-infrastructure-update-may-2022 &nbsp;

[10] https://www.ferc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-05/may-energy-infrastructure_1.pdf  

[11] https://www.ferc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-05/may-2012-energy-infrastructure.pdf  

[12] https://cms.ferc.gov/media/energy-infrastructure-update-may-2022 &nbsp;

[13] https://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/monthly (see tables 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3)  

[14] Ibid.  

[15] https://cleanpower.org/news/clean-energy-deployment-slowed-substantially-in-q2-as-policy-inaction-and-economic-uncertainty-imperils-energy-transition  

[16] https://cms.ferc.gov/media/energy-infrastructure-update-april-2022  

[17] https://cms.ferc.gov/media/energy-infrastructure-update-may-2022 &nbsp;

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The SUN DAY Campaign is a non-profit research and educational organization founded in 1992 to support a rapid transition to 100% reliance on sustainable energy technologies as a cost-effective alternative to nuclear power and fossil fuels and as a solution to climate change. Follow on Twitter: @SunDayCampaign

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