The United States’ Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts that US electricity generation from renewables is expected to surpass that of nuclear and coal by 2021, and will also overtake natural gas by 2045.
In the EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2020’s (AEO2020), its conservative “reference case scenario” expects the share of renewables in the US electricity generation mix to double from 19% in 2019 to 38% in 2050.
But, an alternative “Low Renewables Cost” scenario (which some analysts suggest may still be conservative on the cost assumptions for wind, solar and storage) envisions renewables could boast a 50% share of the country’s electricity mix.
The IEA’s primary conclusion from its AEO2020 was the fact that it believes electricity generation from renewable sources such as wind and solar will surpass nuclear and coal by 2021 – a not-so-subtle shot across the bow of the current Administration’s attitudes towards both renewable energy and coal-fired power.
Much of wind energy’s growth and weight in the generation mix will be solidified in the mid-2020s as production tax credits expire in the early part of the decade and are expected to move along at relatively low levels. Solar PV growth, however, is expected to continue for both utility- and small-scale segments thanks in large part to the declining costs of solar PV.
However, the AEO2020 also provided four alternative scenarios – the High and Low Renewables Cost scenarios, and the High and Low Oil and Gas Supply scenarios.
Of most relevance – given all available evidence which shows continuing cost declines across most renewable energy technologies – is the Low Renewables Cost scenario, which predicts that renewable energy electricity generation will account for 50% of the country’s total.
In the Reference case that is only 38%, and the High Renewables Cost – which at this stage looks more like an exercise in academic doomsaying – sees renewables at only 26%. The Low Renewables Cost scenario also sees natural gas account for 29% of generation and coal for only 11% of generation.
The Low Renewables Cost scenario is also reliant upon energy storage increasing thanks to declining costs so as to accommodate the increased share of renewables.
Similarly, wind energy – unlike the Reference case – remains a strong contributor to new renewable energy capacity thanks to highly cost-competitive technology.
Worth taking into account, however, when looking at the EIA’s forecasts, is the fact that renewable energy development, capacity increases, and cost declines, have far outpaced EIA predictions in the past and, by all accounts, will only continue to do so given the relatively conservative estimates made in the AEO2020.