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Led by Solar and Wind, U.S. Electrical Generation by Renewables Grew by 15.4% During First Three-Quarters of 2022

Ken Bossong's picture
Executive Director, SUN DAY Campaign

Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign since 1992

  • Member since 2003
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  • Nov 28, 2022
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According to a review by the SUN DAY Campaign of data released the day before Thanksgiving by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) provided almost 23% of the nation's electrical generation during the first three-quarters of 2022. 

 

The latest issue of EIA's "Electric Power Monthly" report (with data through September 30, 2022) reveals that in the first nine months of 2022, renewable energy sources (including small-scale solar systems) [1] increased their electrical output by 15.44% compared to the same period a year earlier. Year-to-date, renewables have provided 22.66% of total U.S. electrical generation compared to 20.33% a year earlier.

 

For the nine-month period, electrical generation by wind increased by 18.64% and provided almost a tenth (9.75%) of total electrical generation. Meanwhile, solar sources grew by 25.68% and provided 5.01% of the nation's electrical output. In addition, generation by hydropower increased 7.98% and accounted for 6.29% of the total. Geothermal also grew by6.95% while electrical generation attributed to the combination of wood and other biomass dropped by 1.12%.

 

Taken together, during the first three-quarters of 2022, renewable energy sources comfortably out-produced both coal and nuclear power by 15.52% and 28.25% respectively. In fact, over the past half-decade, the mix of renewables has moved from fourth into second place among electrical generating sources while relegating coal and nuclear to third and fourth place.

 

However, EIA's data also suggest that renewable energy's strong growth this year may slow down during the last third of 2022.

 

In September alone, electrical generation by solar grew by 21.02% and geothermal increased by 5.1% compared to September 2021. On the other hand, generation by wind dropped by 6.81% as did that by hydropower (down 1.14%) and biomass/wood (down 4.57%). Taken together, electrical output by renewables was just 1.45% higher than a year ago and because electrical generation by all sources increased, renewables' share in September was nearly unchanged from a year earlier (19.18% vs. 19.14%).  

 

For some time now, EIA has been forecasting renewables to provide 22% of U.S. electrical generation in 2022 - up from 20% a year earlier [2]. While they presently are ahead of that level, a slowdown in generation by wind and hydropower during the last quarter of this year could result in renewables falling short of that mark while still exceeding their 2021 record output.  

 

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Notes 

 

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, the electricity figures cited above include EIA's "estimated small-scale solar photovoltaic" (e.g., rooftop solar systems) which accounts for 28.8% of total solar output and over six percent (6.4%) of total net electrical generation by renewable energy sources. 

 

[2] See, for example, U.S. Energy Information Administration, "EIA expects renewables to account for 22% of U.S. electricity generation in 2022" (August 16, 2022) https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=53459  

 

 

Source: 

  

EIA's latest "Electric Power Monthly" report was released on November 23, 2022. For the data cited in this news release, see Table ES1.A "Total Electric Power Industry Summary Statistics 2022 and 2021" and Table ES1.B. “Total Electric Power Industry Summary Statistics, Year-to-Date 2022 and 2021”at:

https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.php?t=table_es...

https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.php?t=table_es1b

Discussions
Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Nov 29, 2022

Excellent.can you imagine the growrh if utilities gave fair tarrif rukes onstead of trying to block us. 

Sean Hagen's picture
Sean Hagen on Nov 29, 2022

Ken - good data. 

With respect, I'd appreciate your thoughts on the following questions and corresponding comments:

1. Is the goal 'Clean Power,' 'Renewable Energy,' 'Carbon-free Energy,' or Sustainable Energy'?

Words matter. details are important, and we need to know whether we are working to cross the goal line. Specifically, you note that the technologies listed "...comfortably outperformed...nuclear..." and "...relegated...nuclear ...to fourth place [in the mix of generation resources]". The following is based on assuming the ongoing Energy Transition's overall objective relative to electric power grids (Grids) is to provide an adequate supply of reliable, resilient, affordable, safe, and sustainable electricity for all end users (everyone). 

This language indicates that Renewable Energy is assumed to be equivalent to Carbon-free Energy. This is not true. Solar and Wind are NOT carbon-free, in that both depend on Flexible Generation to be integrated into Grid operations because they are not dispatchable (their output is determined by Environmental Factors outside the control of facility operators). For all practical purposes, except for the few regions that have adequate Geothermal and Hydro resources, the corresponding Flexible Generation is Natural Gas. Accordingly, EIA data shows the lockstep correlation of Carbon reduction resulting from Gas displacing Coal, Carbon increasing when Nuclear plants close, and insignificant if any correlation between carbon reduction changes in Wind & Solar PV generation.

Additionally, Nuclear outperforms the other technologies in terms of:

- Producing holistically (Cradle-to-Grave) Environmentally Clean, Carbon-free, Sustainable Energy

- Measured by Capacity Factor (actual energy generated compared to nameplate capacity)

- Energy Return on Energy Invested (e.g., a Solar PV panel requires 5-10 years to generate the energy consumed to manufacture the panel, compared to ~6 WEEKS for a Nuclear plant) 

Please note that this question is not promoting Nuclear, but only comparing Wind & Solar to Nuclear to clarify question #1.

2. Has there been any impact on Grid Reliability resulting from 'relegating' Coal and Nuclear to third & fourth place in the Generation mix?

Both Coal & Nuclear provide Firm, Dispatchable Capacity when called upon, and both maintain onsite fuel storage, as opposed to just-in-time storage for Gas and real-time, forecastable but uncontrollable 'fuel' for Wind & Solar. Typically, as shown in Germany, California, and Texas, growth in Wind and Solar PV that displaces Firm, Dispatchable Generation (that has onsite storage) results in reduced Grid reliability and resiliency.

3. Is there any correlation to increased Wind and Solar to lower rates (price) end users pay for electricity?

There are many ways to account for energy economics. This seems like a reasonable, high-level, quantifiable, unbiased indicator and good starting point to assess the affordability of Renewable Energy technologies in terms of crossing the goal line of providing an adequate supply of reliable, resilient, affordable, safe, and sustainable electricity for everyone.

Thank you in advance for your thoughts.

Ken Bossong's picture
Ken Bossong on Jan 1, 2023

some responses to Sean Hagen's comments:

1.) The SUN DAY Campaign's news release was only providing a status report re. "renewable energy" (used for electrical generation) which, by EIA's definition, includes solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, and bioenergy. Not expressly addressed were the goals of clean power and carbon-free energy; we would see the former as the priority; carbon-free is not necessarily "clean."

It's unclear where you are deriving your information re. nuclear power; most of what you have written appears to be inaccurate.

2.) At the moment, grid reliability varies somewhat by state or region. As a broad generalization, problems that were projected a decade or so ago have generally not materialized. There have been sufficient instances of coal and nuclear proving to be less than reliable during periods of severe weather (e.g., floods, cold & hot temperature extremes) - Texas experienced high outages of fossil fuel plants a year ago while solar & wind performed better. Grid-hardening and storage may be more important than which energy source is being used.

3.) As you suggest, there are multiple ways to assess energy economics and there are significant regional variations. The fact that solar and wind are displacing coal and natural gas and, to a lesser degree, nuclear would suggest that governmental planners and private purchasers have decided for themselves that solar and wind are the more economic options.

Ken Bossong's picture
Ken Bossong on Jan 2, 2023

I believe you are looking at EIA's 2021 data. Look at the data EIA published at page 13 of the following report ("Electric Power Monthly" - November 2022)

 

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