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US Annual Energy Outlook Continues To Low-Ball Renewable Energy Forecasts
by Staff Writers
Washington DC (SPX) Dec 17, 2013

File image.

The "early release overview " of the Annual Energy Outlook 2014 issued today by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) continues a trend of low-balling forecasts for the future contribution of renewable energy sources to the nation's electricity production that have not been borne out by actual experience.

The "reference case" in the Annual Energy Outlook 2014 projects that renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) to grow only 28% over the next quarter-century and to constitute just 16% of the nation's electrical generation by 2040.

However, if renewable energy merely continues the growth trend of the past decade, its share of the nation's electrical generation in 2040 is likely to be closer to 25%. Furthermore, rapidly falling prices, technological advances, and the need to address climate change suggest that the actual contribution of renewables in 2040 is apt to be far higher -- perhaps double or more the EIA estimates.

A few statistics derived from recent EIA and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) reports * underscore how unrealistically conservative the agency's latest set of forecasts appear to be:

** Ten years ago, non-hydro renewables (i.e., biomass, geothermal, solar, wind) accounted for 2% of U.S. electrical generation; by 2013 that had tripled to over 6% and have grown every year over the past decade - unlike nuclear, coal, natural gas, or oil. Combined with conventional hydropower, renewables will likely account for close to 14% of net electrical generation this year (they had reached 14.2% by June 30, 2013).

** During the decade 2003-2012, wind power output grew more than twelve-fold and is on track to increase another 20% in 2013; wind now accounts for over 4% of the nation's net electrical generation and many wind farms now planned or under construction will be providing electricity at costs lower than fossil fuels or nuclear power.

** During the decade 2003-2012, solar power output increased by more than eight-fold and in recent years has been sustaining the highest growth rates of all energy sources - both renewable and non-renewable - and experiencing rapid price drops that are making it cost-competitive (or nearly so) in many instances with non-renewable sources. While still accounting for a very small share of electrical generation (0.2% in 2013), solar output this year is expected to double that of 2012 which, in turn, more than doubled 2011's level.

** Geothermal continues to grow, albeit at a more modest rate - registering a 16% increase between 2003 and 2012 and headed for another 1% increase in 2013. Electrical generation by biomass and hydropower in 2013 is on course to be about 4% above the average annual levels recorded during the preceding decade.

** Renewable sources now account for nearly 16% of total U.S. operating generating capacity while almost a third of the new electrical generating capacity to come into service during the first ten months of 2013 is from renewables. In fact, actual renewable generating capacity today is roughly double that forecast by EIA in its Annual Energy Outlook just five years ago (i.e., 2008).

"Even if government support lessens in future years, competitive and ever-lower prices coupled with the pressures of climate change virtually assure that renewables will continue to grow at rapid rates that substantially exceed EIA's projections," said Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign.

"Inasmuch as policy makers in both the public and private sectors rely heavily upon EIA data when making legislative, regulatory, investment, and other decisions, the agency has a responsibility to provide better renewable energy projections that more closely reflect the real-world growth rates of recent years."


Related Links
U.S. Energy Information Administration "Electric Power Monthly"
All About Solar Energy at

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