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2016 US Renewable Generation Blows Past EIA’s Earlier Forecasts

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Kenneth Bossong
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Washington D.C. – According to the latest issue of the U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) "Electric Power Monthly" report (with data through Dec. 31, 2016), renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) continued their rapid growth and accounted for 15.34 percent of domestic electrical generation in 2016 — compared to 13.65 percent in 2015.Moreover, the growth in renewables once again handily surpassed EIA's earlier forecasts for the sector.In its "Short-Term Energy Outlook" (STEO) released on Jan. 12, 2016, EIA  said it "expect[ed] total renewables used in the electric power sector to increase by 9.5 percent in 2016." In fact, in 2016, electrical output by renewables (including hydropower) increased by 12.56 percent while non-hydro renewables grew by 17.26 percent.

EIA also forecast wind capacity "to increase by 14 percent in 2016." In actuality, generation expanded by 18.75 percent and provided 5.53 percent of domestic electrical output last year. Similarly, EIA "forecast hydropower generation in the electric power sector [to] increase by 4.8 percent in 2016." In reality, hydro's electrical production rose by 6.72 percent.

EIA's January 2016 STEO did not offer a projection for solar in 2016 but its December 2015 STEO forecast "utility-scale solar power [to] average 0.8 percent of total U.S. electricity generation in 2016." Utility-scale solar generation in 2016 actually exceeded 0.9 percent while utility-scale and distributed solar combined accounted for 1.37 percent of total electrical output. In fact, electrical output by utility-scale plus distributed solar grew by 44 percent in 2016 compared to 2015.By comparison, electrical generation by coal dropped by 8.3 percent and that from petroleum liquids and coke plummeted by 15.37 percent. (Solar-generated electricity is now more than double that from petroleum sources.) Electrical output attributable to natural gas and other gases increased by just 3.47 percent while growth in the nuclear power sector was an anemic 1 percent.Beyond the growth experienced by solar, wind, and hydropower, geothermal also charted a 9.41 percent expansion in 2016. Among renewable sources, only wood and other forms of biomass experienced a decline last year — down by 1.67 percent.Taken together, non-hydro renewables (i.e., biomass, geothermal, solar, wind) accounted for 8.85 percent of electrical generation in 2016. Nonetheless, in its latest STEO (issued Feb. 7, 2017), EIA inexplicably states: "Nonhydropower renewables are forecast to provide 9 percent of electricity generation in 2017." That is, EIA apparently anticipates no significant increase by non-hydro renewables in 2017 notwithstanding the sustained strong growth by these technologies in 2016 and during the several years prior.Given the trends of recent years, it is probably no great surprise that solar, wind, and other renewable sources once again surpassed EIA's expectations. Yet, EIA continues to low-ball its latest forecasts for renewables, thereby doing a serious disservice to the cross-section of rapidly growing clean energy technologies.

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