Power generation hitting new highs in U.S.

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, August 29, 2016

Renewable power generation reached new highs in every month of the first half of 2016 in comparison with all previous years, according to new data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The data document a string of renewable records this year. In March and April, non-hydropower renewables such as wind and solar provided 10 percent of the nation’s electricity for the first time, for example. In January through June, renewable electricity generation hovered about 10 billion kilowatt-hours above the average for each month.

There are two distinct reasons why monthly renewable generation is surpassing identical months in all previous years. One is that hydropower is recovering after the extended West Coast drought and is closer to historical levels. Last year, annual hydropower generation reached its lowest level in 2007 because of stifling drought in California, Oregon and Washington state, EIA said.

“The region’s water situation appears to have somewhat improved in 2016 with increased precipitation from the El Niño weather pattern helping to fill reservoirs, especially in Washington and Northern California,” the EIA report said.

Hydropower faces an uncertain future because of licensing and technology challenges. The Department of Energy released a road map this summer of how it could grow from 101 gigawatts to nearly 150 GW by 2050 (E&ENews PM, July 26).

For non-hydro sources such as wind, falling capital costs — helped by technology improvements — and policy incentives like state renewable portfolio standards are driving growth. Moderate weather in March and April, when electricity demand is typically low, helped boost wind and solar, too. Extensions of the federal production tax credit and investment tax credit are expected to drive growth for solar and wind for the next several years.

“Nonhydro renewable generation continues to increase year-over-year and has exceeded hydro generation in each month since February 2016,” EIA said.

A report from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory this month found that the U.S. wind industry installed almost 8.6 GW of capacity in 2015, the largest of any electricity source. However, the industry’s future is uncertain after the PTC phases out in 2020 (E&ENews PM, Aug. 17). Similarly, solar power set records for growth last year but is facing some pressure via pushback in some states over net-metering policies.

The EIA data cover rooftop solar and utility-scale renewables of all types with a capacity greater than 1 megawatt.