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Renewables Exceed EIA's Forecast; Provide 21% of U.S. Electricity in 2021 as Solar and Wind Grow by 25.2% and 12.4% Respectively

Ken Bossong's picture
Executive Director SUN DAY Campaign

Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign since 1992

  • Member since 2003
  • 39 items added with 14,835 views
  • Feb 28, 2022
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Driven by strong solar and wind power growth, electrical generation by renewable energy sources (i.e., also including biomass, geothermal, hydropower) accounted for 21.02% of total U.S. electrical generation in 2021, exceeding U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts, according to a SUN DAY Campaign analysis of newly-released EIA data.

The latest issue of EIA's "Electric Power Monthly" report (with data through December 31, 2021) also reveals that in 2021, solar (including distributed rooftop systems) increased by 25.23%, making it the nation's fastest growing source of electricity last year. Wind grew 12.37% compared to 2020. Combined, solar and wind grew by 15.96% and accounted for more than one-eighth (13.05%) of U.S. electrical generation (wind - 9.12%, solar - 3.93%). Moreover, wind and solar combined now provide more than three-fifths (62.08%) of the generation by renewable sources.

In addition, geothermal posted a gain of 2.19% while electricity generated by wood + other biomass increased by 1.42%. Taken together, generation by all non-hydro renewables grew by 14.08%.

Reflecting severe drought conditions during the year, though, hydropower fell by 8.78%. That notwithstanding, all renewables combined - including hydropower - produced 6.17% more electricity than a year earlier. However, inasmuch as electricity generation by all sources increased by 2.86%, renewables' share of the total increased only slightly - from 20.37% in 2020 to 21.02% in 2021. Nonetheless, that exceeded by more than 5% EIA's forecast of a 20% share for renewables in 2021 as it regularly predicted in its monthly "Short-Term Energy Outlook" reports last year.

Renewable sources also expanded their lead over nuclear power, providing one-eighth (12.50%) more electricity than the nation's atomic power plants (18.69% of total U.S. generation). Natural gas remained as the top source of U.S. electrical generation with a 37.82% share but down from 40.12% a year ago. Coal rebounded into second place (with a 21.58% share), growing 16.20% compared to 2020.

Longer-term trends, though, still suggest the gradual and probably accelerating displacement of coal and nuclear power by renewable energy sources, especially solar and wind. EIA expects 21.8 gigawatts (GW) of new utility-scale solar capacity to come online in 2022 along with 7.6-GW of new wind capacity and 4.4-GW of small-scale solar capacity. Hydropower also seems poised to rebound in 2022; it increased its output by 19.26% in December 2021 compared to December 2020. As a consequence, EIA now expects renewables' share of U.S. electrical generation to top 22% this year and exceed that of coal while nuclear power's share declines further.

"2021 was a good year for solar and wind notwithstanding headwinds such as the Covid pandemic and disruptions in global supply chains," noted the SUN DAY Campaign's executive director Ken Bossong. "Together with other renewable energy sources, they built on their growing lead over nuclear power, will likely overtake coal in 2022, and continue to cut into natural gas's current dominance."

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NOTE: Unless otherwise indicated, the electricity figures cited above include EIA's "estimated small-scale solar photovoltaic" (e.g., rooftop solar systems) which accounts for 29.95% of total solar output and almost six percent (5.60%) of total net electrical generation by renewable energy sources.  

 

SOURCES:

  

The latest issue of EIA's "Electric Power Monthly" was posted late on February 25, 2022.
For the data cited in this news update, see the tables: 

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

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

The latest issue of EIA's "Short-Term Energy Outlook" was posted on February 8, 2022.

For the data cited in this news update, see the "Electricity" forecast at:

https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/steo/report/electricity.php

 

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The SUN DAY Campaign is a non-profit research and educational organization founded in 1992 to aggressively promote 100% reliance on sustainable energy technologies as cost-effective alternatives to nuclear power and fossil fuels and as a strategy for addressing climate change. Follow on Twitter: @SunDayCampaign 

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Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Feb 28, 2022

Ken, Yes good insights. With the low cost of Renewables and also storage the numbers will keep growing very fast. Add in the dwindling supply of gas and oil along with high costs and unstable governments and Renewables are perfect for everyone. Clean energy and low cost are just what we have needed for 100 years. 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Mar 1, 2022

Can the windpower industry keep growing with the Dec 2021 expiration of the Federal subsidy?

Yes, the 2021 expiration won't hinder clever developers from receiving the subsidy for four more years, and that assumes Congress does not extend it again.

The fine print in the rules says that to be eligible, a windfarm has to start construction in 2021 (or prior), which is defined as spending 5% of the total budget.  They get another four years to finish, so they can keep adding new turbines every year for 3.8 more years, and each one will qualify for the 1.5 ¢/kWh production tax credit.

Since investors like getting their money back quickly, instead of over 10 years, many will choose the investment tax credit instead, which they can receive as soon as the windturbine goes on-line.  It's 18% of the project expenditure for land-based wind, and 30% for off-shore wind.

Developers of off-shore farms get even more time, since they can start construction anytime before 2026 and still receive the credit.

The DOE also offers a range of loan guarantees and grants.

Source.

Accelerated Depreciation is another form of (non-expiring) subsidy available for windfarms.  This lets developers write off the investment in the first 5 years, rather than over the life of the projects.  It's another way they get their investment back more quickly.

The windpower industry used to assure us that they would soon be economical without a subsidy, but now I guess with climate change, we are willing to continue the subsidy indefinitely anyway.

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