More than half of the roughly 24,000 megawatts of electricity generation capacity added to the U.S. grid in 2016 came from renewable resources, according to new findings from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The agency estimates that 60 percent of all utility-scale generation capacity additions for the year were from wind and solar resources, while roughly 3 percent came from hydropower, biomass, landfill gas and other sources.
Among fossil fuels, natural gas accounted for the largest share of new electricity capacity in 2016, with an estimated 7,700 MW of new gas-fired power coming online (32 percent of all new capacity), while nuclear capacity grew by 1,347 MW (5.6 percent), officials confirmed.
Utility-scale renewables have accounted for an increasingly large share of total capacity additions over the past several years, rising from 40 percent of new capacity in 2013 to 66 percent in 2015.
While the number of solar arrays and wind farms continued to rise overall in 2016, EIA noted that increased capacity does not necessarily translate into larger shares of renewable power generation. That's because renewables like wind and solar are intermittent and not available all the time, officials said.
The agency did report figures for monthly renewable energy generation over the 12-month period.
In particular, EIA found that seasonal rains and melting snowpack in Western states led to a surge in hydropower production last March; it was sustained into April and May. The 2016 boost in hydropower from Western dams came as the region recovered from drought conditions in 2014 and 2015, EIA said.
A windy winter, spring and fall also helped drive strong wind energy production in 2016, although wind power and other renewable power production was more evenly distributed both seasonally and geographically, the agency found. Solar saw modest increases in output during the summer months and peaked in July.
According to its most recent “Short-Term Energy Outlook,” also released yesterday, EIA expects total renewable fuels used in the electric power sector to dip in 2017 before jumping by 7.3 percent in 2018. Consumption of non-hydro renewable energy is forecast to grow by 1.3 percent in 2017 and by 9.8 percent in 2018.
EIA reported that most renewable generation comes from Western states, which accounted for 63 percent of all U.S. hydroelectric power and 77 percent of all solar generation in 2016. Roughly 72 percent of the nation's wind power came from the Midwest and the South, notably Texas, while 24 percent came from Western states.
In contrast to the growth in renewable energy, EIA this week also reported that U.S. coal is expected to fall to its lowest level in nearly 40 years, at 743 million short tons. That vast majority of U.S. coal is burned to generate electricity.
Projected coal production for 2016 is down 17 percent from 2015, and it continues an eight-year tumble from peak coal production in 2008. Coal's decline last year was affected by a number of factors, including competition from low-cost natural gas, higher-than-normal temperatures during the 2015-16 winter, retirements of U.S. coal-fired power plants and reduced demand for U.S. coal exports, the agency said.
In 2016, natural-gas-fired power generation surpassed coal-fired generation for the first time, accounting for an estimated 34 percent of total electricity generation, compared with coal's 30 percent share. EIA's most recent “Short-Term Energy Outlook” forecasts that power-sector coal consumption in 2016 will be roughly 681 million short tons, the lowest level since 1985.
Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.