US Renewables Expand, Nukes Don’t
- Jun 29, 2022 6:34 pm GMT
In late April 2022, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that generation from renewable resources totaled 795 million MWh in the US in 2021, surpassing nuclear generation, which totaled 778 (visual below). Renewable generation also exceeded coal in April. It is another significant milestone for renewables. Moreover, all indications suggest that the former will continue to grow at double digit rates per annum for the foreseeable future while the latter will remain flat or dwindle over time.
Wind generation increased by 12% and utility-scale solar by 28% in 2021. Hydro generation decreased to its lowest level since 2015, mainly because of dry conditions in the western US. Biomass and geothermal electricity generation remained relatively unchanged in 2021. Nuclear-powered generation has remained relatively steady during the past decade with generation falling to its lowest level since 2012.
Generating 1,474 million MWh in 2021 natural gas was the biggest source of electricity generation, while coal generation increased for the first time since 2014 exceeding both renewables or nuclear power. Total generation in the electric power sector increased slightly in 2021, but it remained below its record-high in 2018. This is most likely an anomaly due to the current high natural gas prices.
Moreover, on 29 March 2022, wind turbines in the Lower 48 states produced 2,017 GWh of electricity, making wind the second-largest source of electric generation for the day, second only behind natural gas. Daily wind-powered electricity had surpassed coal-fired and nuclear electricity generation separately on other days earlier this year but had not surpassed both sources on a single day.
Consistent growth has led to more wind-powered electricity generation. In September 2019, wind surpassed nuclear capacity, but generated less because of differences in those technologies’ utilization: the average capacity factor for wind was 35% vs. 93% for nukes. Wind currently ranks as the third-largest source of generating capacity in the US, behind natural gas and coal-fired generators.
March is typically the best month for wind output in the US. On March 29, the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), which covers parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) both reported new wind generation records meeting 88.5% and 67.2% of the demand on the two networks for the same day, respectively.
For the first quarter of 2022, wind and solar produced a record 34% of the power dispatched by ERCOT. For the period, wind generation was up 14% while solar output increased 85%. Together, wind and solar accounted for 71% of the generation increase during the quarter.
In a number of states including California, much of the renewable growth may be attributed to the regulatory push – such as carbon neutrality targets, mandatory renewable portfolio standards (RPS), or both.
But in Texas and a number of other so-called “red-states” there is no such political or regulatory push. Wind and solar are cheap and plentiful, and that is driving the rise of renewables.
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