Notwithstanding COVID-19, EIA expects strong growth in electrical generation by U.S. renewables

It does caution, however, that its recent forecast is subject to a high degree of uncertainty — even as coal, gas and nuclear all decline


Notwithstanding a projected decline in total U.S. electrical generation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) are projected to produce significantly more electricity in 2020, according to a SUN DAY Campaign analysis of just-released data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The latest issue of EIA’s “Short-Term Energy Outlook” reveals that “renewable energy sources [will] account for the largest portion of new generating capacity in 2020, driving EIA’s forecast of 11% growth in renewable generation by the electric power sector.” The agency “expects the electric power sector will add 20.4 gigawatts of new wind capacity and 12.7 gigawatts of utility-scale solar capacity in 2020 … [making] renewable energy … the fastest-growing source of electricity generation in 2020 … .”

EIA does caution, however, that “these forecasts are subject to a high degree of uncertainty” and “the effects the economic slowdown related to COVID-19 are likely to affect new generating capacity builds during the next few months.”

EIA further forecasts that as renewably-generated electricity grows, “total U.S. electric power sector generation will decline by 5% in 2020. Most of the expected decline in electricity supply is reflected in lower fossil fuel generation, especially at coal-fired power plants. EIA expects that coal generation will fall by 25% in 2020.”

Data provided in EIA’s report also indicates that electrical generation by natural gas will fall in 2020 by 1.3% (from 1,581.82 billion kWh in 2019 to 1,561.94 kWh in 2020) while nuclear power’s output will decline 1.2% (from 809.41 billion kWh in 2019 to 799.80 billion kWh in 2020).

In addition, EIA data show nuclear power’s contribution to the nation’s electrical generation further declining to 782.39 billion kWh in 2021 and that from coal rebounding a bit to 816.47 billion kWh. Meanwhile, electrical generation by hydropower and non-hydro renewables combined is forecast to rise to 835.10 billion kWh – putting them ahead of both coal and nuclear power.

“EIA’s numbers are consistent with other recent analyses assessing the global impact of the coronavirus on energy use and production,” noted Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “While the pandemic will reduce earlier forecasts for energy consumption and additions to generating capacity, renewables are poised for continued growth while all other sources are expected to decline.”

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