EIA predicts strong growth for renewables, though a lull is coming up

Renewable electricity generation in the Annual Energy Outlook 2015 Reference case increases by 72% from 2013 to 2040, accounting for more than one-third of new generation capacity, with the renewable share of total generation grows from 13% in 2013 to 18% in 2040.

Said the U.S. Energy Information Administration in the Annual Energy Outlook 2015, which was released on April 14: “Federal tax credits and state renewable portfolio standards that do not expire (sunset) continue to drive the relatively robust near-term growth of nonhydropower renewable sources, with total renewable generation increasing by 25% from 2013 to 2018. However, from 2018 through about 2030, the growth of renewable capacity moderates, as relatively slow growth of electricity demand reduces the need for new generation capacity.

“In addition, the combination of relatively low natural gas prices and the expiration of several key federal and state policies results in a challenging economic environment for renewables. After 2030, renewable capacity growth again accelerates, as natural gas prices increase over time and renewables become increasingly cost-competitive in some regions.

“Wind and solar generation account for nearly two-thirds of the increase in total renewable generation in the AEO2015 Reference case. Solar photovoltaic (PV) technology is the fastest-growing energy source for renewable generation, at an annual average rate of 6.8%. Wind energy accounts for the largest absolute increase in renewable generation and for 40.0% of the growth in renewable generation from 2013 to 2038, displacing hydropower and becoming the largest source of renewable generation by 2040. PV capacity accounts for nearly all the growth in solar generation, split between the electric power sector and the end-use sectors (e.g., distributed or customer-sited generation). Geothermal generation grows at an average annual rate of about 5.5% over the projection period, but because geothermal resources are concentrated geographically, the growth is limited to the western United States. Biomass generation increases by an average of 3.1%/year, led by cofiring at existing coal plants through about 2030. After 2030, new dedicated biomass plants account for most of the growth in generation from biomass energy sources.

“In the High Economic Growth and High Oil Price cases, renewable generation growth exceeds the levels in the Reference case— more than doubling from 2013 to 2040 in both cases, primarily as a result of increased demand for new generation capacity in the High Economic Growth case and relatively more expensive competing fuel prices in the High Oil Price case. In the Low Economic Growth and Low Oil Price cases, with slower load growth and lower natural gas prices, the overall increase in renewable generation from 2013 to 2040 is somewhat smaller than in the Reference case but still grows by 49% and 61%, respectively, from 2013 to 2040. Wind and solar PV generation in the electric power sector, the sector most affected by renewable electric generation, account for most of the variation across the alternative cases in the later years of the projections.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.