Solar growth outpaces other energy sources in 2016

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, December 2, 2016

Solar power generation saw a 42.5 percent jump in the first nine months of 2016 compared with the same period a year ago, outpacing all other energy fuels in terms of percentage growth, according to newly released data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Wind power saw the second-largest increase in use, rising by nearly 22 percent, followed by conventional hydroelectric power, which increased 9.1 percent, according to EIA’s latest Electric Power Monthly report.

At the same time, coal-fired electricity generation fell behind natural gas in terms of total power produced for the first nine months of 2016, at 934.7 million megawatt-hours. That’s a 13.4 percent decline from the same period in 2015. Only oil-fired power plants saw a steeper decline in production, down 34.2 percent, according to EIA.

Natural gas, now the nation’s leading fuel for power generation, increased 7.5 percent, accounting for 1.08 billion MWh of grid-delivered electricity for the nine months ending in September. Nuclear generation remained roughly the same during the first three quarters of 2016 as in the previous year.

Overall, renewables claimed 15.1 percent of net U.S. electricity generation during the first three quarters of the year, up from 13.2 percent in 2015, according to EIA. That power came from wind power, utility-scale and distributed solar, hydropower, biomass, and geothermal plants.

Coal consumption by electric utilities and independent power producers has been on a downward trajectory for most of the last decade, according to EIA. Utilities and IPPs consumed more than 1 billion tons of coal annually as recently as 2008, but by 2015 consumption had dropped to less than 740 million tons.

President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to revive the U.S. coal sector, in part by rolling back Obama administration regulations on coal-fired power plants.

Environmental groups and clean energy advocates say coal’s decline is necessary to arrest climate change and that the industry’s slide is largely tied to shifting economics that have made gas and renewables more cost-competitive.

“With another quarter of solid growth by renewable energy sources, one wonders whether the incoming Trump administration and Republican leadership in Congress will see the handwriting on the wall,” Ken Bossong, executive director of the clean-energy-focused Sun Day Campaign, said of the findings.