U.S. Renewable Energy Will Surge Past Coal and Nuclear by Year’s End

U.S. Renewable Energy Will Surge Past Coal and Nuclear by Year’s End

Renewables will generate more power in the United States than coal this year. The question is whether they will be able to grow fast enough in order to meet the country’s climate goals.

Trade disputes and supply chain constraints have slowed wind- and solar installations, raising doubts about the United States’ ability meet the Inflation Reduction Act’s emission reductions. The Biden administration is banking on the landmark climate law cutting emissions by 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Many analysts think the United States will ultimately shake off the slowdown thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act’s $369 billion in clean energy investments. It may take some time for the law to have an impact. Before developers can start spending money on new facilities, tax guidance must be completed. Companies now face headwinds from higher interest rates and the looming danger of a recession.

The Inflation Reduction Act’s emission reductions hinge on the country’s ability to at least double the rate of renewable installations over the record levels observed in 2020 and 2021, said John Larsen, a partner at the Rhodium Group.

” Every year we don’t have capacity additions above the record is lost ground,” said he. It will be much more difficult to make up the difference over time. We won’t achieve the results we expected because we didn’t make the transition .”

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For now, U.S. renewable production is increasing. Wind and solar output are up 18 percent through Nov. 20 compared to the same time last year and have grown 58 percent compared to 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The government energy tracker predicts that wind, solar and hydro will generate 22 percent of U.S. electricity by the end of this year. That is more than coal at 20 percent and nuclear at 19 percent.

Renewable output also exceeded coal in 2020, though that year saw a decrease in energy generation across the board due to the economic lockdowns associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Solar and wind growth must continue at a rapid pace to meet the United States’ climate goals. Researchers at Princeton University estimate the country needs to install about 50 gigawatts of wind and solar annually between 2022 and 2024, or roughly double the 25 GW that the United States installed annually in 2020 and 2021.

Through the first nine months of this year, the United States installed 11 GW of wind and solar (Climatewire, Nov. 3).

Steve Cicala is an economist at Tufts University, who studies energy markets and was optimistic that the Inflation Reduction Act would eventually spark a new generation of renewable boom. The law provides economic certainty for developers by providing incentives over 10 years. This is a significant improvement on the past, when renewable subsidies were extended by Congress every two years.

He said that there are limits to the law’s impact. To facilitate this growth, transmission lines must be constructed. Grid operators are faced with a backlog of projects that need to be connected to the power grid. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimates that some 930 GW of wind, solar and battery projects are waiting to connect to the grid. By comparison, the total capacity of the U.S. power system today is about 1,150 GW.

” The important thing is that it continues to grow, and we get more output from renewables and capacity installed,” Cicala stated. “It will result in less generation from fossil resources .”

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EIA thinks gas will fall from 38 percent of U.S. power generation this year to 36 percent next year, while coal will decline from 20 percent to 19 percent. The decline is due to a mix of a weaker economy, a cooler summer and growing renewables, which are projected to increase to 24 percent of U.S. power generation in 2023.

But supply chain concerns have also prompted utilities delay coal retirements while they wait for new solar or wind farms to be constructed. IHS Markit estimates that 13 GW of planned coal retirements have been delayed, most by a couple of years. EIA projects more than 8 GW of coal retirements for 2023.

The question for climate is how many coal plants actually run. Larsen stated that if they are used sparingly in order to meet electricity demand surges, their emissions impact on the climate will be minimal.

“But clearly, if the coal plants run more than that, it is obviously bad for climate, because coal is still a dominant source of greenhouse gasses in the power sector,” he stated.

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News delivers vital news to professionals in the energy and environment industries.

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