Over the next two years, renewables will not only reduce coal and natural gas use, but they will account for one-fourth of U.S. electricity. That’s the word from the latest Short-Term Energy Outlook, the Energy Information Agency, or EIA.
In fact, the report says that with the new solar and wind projects coming online this year, the administration forecasts these two energy sources will account for 16% of total generation in 2023, up from 14% last year and 8% in 2018. With this rise, coal will fall to 18% this year, down from 20% in 2022. Similarly, natural gas is expected to fall slightly to 38% of U.S. power generation.
While the report shows we still have a long way to go in terms of decarbonization, there is a significant shift is happening in the American electricity landscape. Since 2017, wind power alone has grown by more than 70%, and solar has tripled in capacity.
Based on their predictions, the EIA says that solar power will grow by 84% this year alone, thanks to declining construction costs and favorable tax credits like those in the historic Inflation Reduction Act. By the end of 2024, solar generation will account for 6% of U.S. electricity, and while that may not sound like much, that is double the solar capacity from 2022.
While wind power is growing slower than the EIA expected, reaching 12% by 2024, many promising projects across the country, give reasons for hope, such as the first auctions for offshore wind in Califonia ever. America has hundreds of square miles of untapped potential along American shores, and while current economic conditions like high inflation and supply chain shortages present challenges to the growth of the country’s offshore wind industry, analyses show that Biden’s 30 offshore wind gigawatts by 2030 plan could still be possible.
Much of solar power’s growth is in Texas and California, where natural gas has been the primary source of electricity. The renewable expansion in these two regions is here to stay. Last week, California regulators approved seven huge renewable projects in the Golden State, including 800 megawatts-worth of new solar and battery storage projects.
As Grist reports, these new storage projects help grid operators respond to “high-demand events, heat waves, or when the energy grid is strained,” while working towards California’s goal of a net-zero economy.
Further south in Texas, the state’s most populous city, Houston, just adopted a climate action plan that aims to slash greenhouse gas emissions and address environmental health disparities. The plan has ambitious goals regarding pollution, landfill waste, and of course, solar power, targeting installing up to 20 megawatts of solar power and 10 megawatt-hours of battery storage by 2025.
However, everything isn’t sunshine. As E&E’s Energy Wire reports, Texas’ new electricity plan could change the grid, ironically incentivizing more natural gas plants behind its solar and wind boom. As the top-energy-producing state, this new plan, which won approval from Public Utility Commission last week, worries some environmental advocates. Still, this report from market analysts E3 that pitched the new model among other ideas forecasts that wind and solar would still grow to dominate the market in the near future.
In fact, the report projects that renewables would account for nearly 50% of the state’s main grid operator’s supply in 2026 — when the plan could take effect. By contrast, natural gas under that plan would be roughly 30% of the supply in 2026, down from its current estimated 40% share.
All in all, the EIA report indicates that coal and gas do not have another comeback in the works, despite fluctuations in recent years. Even so, as Eric Gimon, a senior fellow at the think tank Energy Innovation, makes the case for in Inside Climate, these projections are likely very conservative, leaving room for even more wind and solar increases in 2024.