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Report Challenges EIA's Renewable Energy Projections

New research released by the SUN DAY Campaign challenges the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) assertion that only 16 percent of U.S. electrical generation in 2040 will come from renewable sources of energy.

SUN DAY Campaign research refutes EIA renewable energy projections as wildly inaccurate In its “early release review” of the Annual Energy Outlook 2014 (the final release of which is due for publication on April 30, 2014), the EIA’s Reference Case suggests that energy sources from biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, and wind will only account for 16 percent of total generation in 2040.

Using EIA’s own published data, the SUN DAY report – subtitled “why the EIA’s forecast of renewables not reaching 16% until 2040 is almost certainly wrong” –  looks at the 11-year period from January 1, 2003 to December 31, 2013 and the expansion of renewable energy within a decade from less than 9 percent in 2004 to almost 13 percent in 2013. Based on this analysis, it should take take no more than five years for  renewably-sourced generation  to reach the 16 percent level, instead of the 27 years long years asserted by the EIA.

The SUN DAY study emphasizes that historical trends don’t guarantee future performance, but given the remarkably consistent growth of renewable energy, even with mixed policy signals from Congress, projections based on these trends is valid and essential.

Even a modest assumption of continuing trends indicate renewable sources of energy could increase to 13.5 percent of net electrical generation by 2014, bumping up to 14.4 percent in 2015, 15.3 percent in 2016, reaching or eclipsing 16 percent by 2018 – or within five years. A worst case scenario puts renewables at 16 percent by 2020 – still far short of the 2040 mark suggested by the EIA. Given the growth of renewable energy over the past decade, it seems dubious that it will be another 27 years to reach 16 percent of total net generation.

“Thus, EIA’s forecast is not just unduly conservative; almost certainly, it is simply wrong.”

In addition, while EIA data suggests that the percentage of renewable power generation from hydropower, biomass, and geothermal will remain unchanged in coming years, there are other studies indicating the possibility of significant growth. If this is the case, even SUN DAY’s projections may be unduly conservative.

The report also notes that historical trends don’t necessarily demonstrate the “actual cost-effective, near-term deployment potential of renewable energy sources – particularly in light of the rapidly declining costs and technological advances associated with many of them.”

“Inasmuch as policy makers in both the public and private sectors – as well as the media and others – rely heavily upon EIA data when making legislative, regulatory, investment, and other decisions, underestimation can have multiple adverse impacts on the renewable energy industry and, more broadly, on the nation’s environmental and energy future,” says Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “Consequently, EIA is doing a serious disservice to the public by publishing analyses that are inherently inconsistent with its own historical data and near-term projections.”

-The SUN DAY Campaign is a non-profit research and educational organization founded in 1992 to promote sustainable energy technologies as cost-effective alternatives to nuclear power and fossil fuels.

Image credit: theregeneration, courtesy flickr

The post Report Challenges EIA’S Renewable Energy Projections appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

Tom Schueneman's picture

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John Miller's picture
John Miller on Apr 19, 2014 1:43 am GMT

The EIA has a history of being relatively conservative in their (AEO) projections of renewable power growth.  Part of the reason has to do with predicting the future subsidies which must be routinely reapproved by Congress.  Since wind power accounted for 88% of average annual non-hydro renewable power increases in U.S. net generation over the past 10 years, the impact of Congress not extending the ‘production tax credit’ (PTC) is likely a major contributing factor to the EIA not more aggressively projecting growth in future wind power generation 2015-2025.

Review of the SUN DAY’s projection indicates assumptions to the extreme in the opposite direction of the EIA AEO 2014 (early release).  The more obvious examples are their assumptions for hydrokinetics, biomass and geothermal.  While these renewables could definitely someday substantially increase their contribution to total renewable power generation (depending on the economics), recent performance histories’ are not that optimistic compared to actual wind and even solar power.  Wind and solar’s growth of course have been very strongly supported by various Government subsidies over the past 10 years.  Another factor not apparently addressed very much in the SUN DAY projection is the impact of increased penetration levels of variable wind & solar or other renewables that require increased levels of spinning reserves to properly maintain power grid balances and reliabilities.  The EIA routinely uses power grid standards developed by North American Electric Reliability Corporation. 

The bottom line, all analyses have their pluses and minuses.  The accuracy is almost always conditional on the assumptions used to develop the projections.

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Apr 19, 2014 6:26 am GMT

I agree with John.  The fate of US wind and solar are still strongly dependent on the fate of subsidy programs.  

The sharp drop in the price of solar panels over the last few years was, near the end, an artifact of the collapse of the solar market in Europe.  That came after long term guarantees to investors in Germany and Spain outgrew their ability to pay. The collapse of that bubble left a panel production capacity glut in China.  Panels were selling below the ir cost of production for all but the lmost efficient suppliers.  With the shakeout among suppliers now well along, panel prices are now rising, not falling.

Given that situation, the EIA’s projection of a substantiall slowdown in growth is at least not absurd.

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