EIA low-balls renewable energy contributions


The early release of the U. S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook 2014 issued earlier this week continues to show a trend of "low-balling" forecasts for the future contribution of renewable energy sources to the nation's electricity production that are not supported by actual experience, the Sun Day Campaign contends.

Credit: SFFE - Senter for Fornybar Energy/Wikimedia Commons

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

However, if renewable energy 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 percent, according to the Sun Day Campaign. 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, Sun Day says. 

The Sun Day Campaign provides statistics derived from recent EIA and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) reports that "underscore how unrealistically conservative the agency's latest set of forecasts" are.

  • Ten years ago, non-hydro renewables (i.e., biomass, geothermal, solar, wind) accounted for 2 percent of U.S. electrical generation. By 2013 that had tripled to more than 6 percent 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 percent of net electrical generation this year (they had reached 14.2 percent by June 30, 2013).
  • From 2003 to 2012, wind power output grew more than twelvefold and is on track to increase another 20% in 2013. Wind now accounts for more than 4 percent 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.
  • From 2003 to 2012, solar power output increased by more than eightfold and in recent years has been sustaining the highest growth rates of all energy sources -- both renewable and nonrenewable -- and experiencing rapid price drops that make it nearly cost competitive with some nonrenewable sources. While still accounting for a very small share of electrical generation (0.2 percent in 2013), solar output this year is expected to double that of 2012 which, in turn, more than doubled 2011.
  • Geothermal continues to grow, albeit at a more modest rate -- 16 percent between 2003 and 2012 -- and is headed for another 1 percent increase in 2013.
  • Electrical generation by biomass and hydropower in 2013 is on course to be about 4 percent above the average annual levels recorded during the preceding decade.
  • Renewable sources now account for nearly 16 percent of total U.S. operating generating capacity while almost one-third of the new electrical generating capacity to come into service during the first 10 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 in 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."

EIA did not respond to FierceEnergy's request for comment. EIA's 2014 Annual Energy Outlook will be officially released on December 20, 2013.

For more:
- see this report
- see this report

Related Articles:
Groups say EIA renewable energy forecasts wrong
Is EIA guilty of reporting incorrect coal reserves?