Electricity from Renewable Sources in 2017 Surpasses EIA Predictions

According to an analysis by the SUN DAY Campaign of data in the latest issue of the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) “Electric Power Monthly” (with statistics through December 31, 2017), electricity generated by renewable energy sources (biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) was 13.2 percent higher in 2017 than in 2016.

Moreover, the production by each renewable energy source – as well as its share of the total energy mix -increased: solar (utility-scale + small-scale) was up by 40.5 percent, hydropower by 12 percent, wind by 12 percent, biomass by 2.1 percent, and geothermal by 0.9 percent.

Combined, renewables accounted for 17.6 percent of total electrical generation in 2017, compared to 15.3 percent in 2016. Wind topped 6 percent of total electrical generation (6.3 percent) versus 5.5 percent a year earlier, while solar reached almost 2 percent (1.9 percent) compared to 1.3 percent in 2016. Solar has now moved into third place among renewables, ahead of biomass and geothermal. Taken together, non-hydro renewables (including distributed solar) grew by 14.1 percent and topped 10 percent of U.S. electrical generation in 2017 (10.2 percent) compared to 8.8 percent in 2016.

In contrast, the electrical output by coal, natural gas, oil, and nuclear power all declined. Oil (petroleum liquids) was down 3.3 percent, natural gas (including other gas) by 7.5 percent, coal by 2.5 percent, and nuclear power by 0.1 percent.

Further, in what is becoming an annual tradition, the actual electrical generation by renewable sources outpaced EIA’s earlier forecasts. In its “Short-Term Energy Outlook” (STEO) issued less than a year ago, EIA forecast electrical generation by renewables to increase by 8.1 percent in 2017 compared to 2016 (actual: 13.2 percent). It predicted wind and hydropower to grow by 6.6 percent and 5.8 percent respectively (actual: both grew by over 12 percent). It anticipated utility-scale solar to expand by 36 percent (actual: 46.9 percent). It foresaw no growth for either biomass or geothermal (actual: both posted modest gains).

Going back two years to the EIA “Short-Term Energy Outlook” issued on March 9, 2016, the agency then said renewably-generated electricity would grow by only 6.6 percent from 2016 to 2017, roughly half the actual growth rate. It anticipated wind providing 5.6 percent of total electrical output in 2017 (actual: 6.3 percent) and solar reaching just 1.1 percent (actual: 1.9 percent).

On the other hand, the EIA March 2017 STEO proved optimistic about fossil fuels, forecasting a 1.6 percent increase in coal-generated electricity (actual: decline of 2.5 percent). Similarly, electricity generated from petroleum liquids was forecast to grow by 3.1 percent but actually fell by 3.3 percent. EIA did foresee a decline in natural gas (including other gas) electrical generation but its prediction of a 6.7 percent decrease was surpassed by the actual drop-off of 7.5 percent. Only for nuclear power was EIA close to the mark; forecasting a decrease of 0.1 percent which roughly matched the actual decline.

“Notwithstanding the Trump Administration’s war on clean energy in the form of solar tariffs, renewable energy budget cut-backs, and expanded subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear power, solar, wind, and the other renewables continue their expansion,” observes Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “And it would be helpful if EIA took note of the actual growth rates for renewable energy technologies in recent years and reflected them in their future analyses and forecasts.”

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