Renewables Projected to Soon Be One-Fourth of US Electricity Generation. Really Soon

The latest EIA report shows renewable generation is about to cross the 25 percent mark, while coal and natural gas lose ground.

Share this article

Newly installed solar panels at the Local 103 headquarters in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Credit: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Newly installed solar panels at the Local 103 headquarters in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Credit: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Share this article

Renewable energy is poised to reach a milestone as a new government report projects that wind, solar and other renewable sources will exceed one-fourth of the country’s electricity generation for the first time, in 2024.

This is one of the many takeaways from the federal government’s Short Term Energy Outlook, a monthly report whose new edition is the first to include a forecast for 2024. The report’s authors in the Energy Information Administration are expecting renewables to increase in market share, while natural gas and coal would both decrease.

From 2023 to 2024, renewables would rise from 24 percent to 26 percent of U.S. electricity generation; coal’s share would drop from 18 percent to 17 percent; gas would remain the leader but drop from 38 percent to 37 percent; and nuclear would be unchanged at 19 percent.

It was a big deal in 2020 when generation from renewables passed coal for the first time for a full year. Coal made a comeback in 2021 and then retreated again in 2022. The ups and downs were largely the result of fluctuations in electricity demand during and then after the Covid-19 pandemic.

The new report indicates that coal doesn’t have another comeback in the works. This fuel, which was the country’s leading electricity source less than a decade ago, is declining as many coal-fired power plants are old and economically uncompetitive. Coal plants continue to close, and developers aren’t building new ones because of concerns about high costs and emissions.

The growth in renewable energy is coming from wind and solar power, with wind responsible for about one-third of the growth and solar accounting for two-thirds, the report says. Other renewable sources, like hydropower and biomass, would be flat.

In fact, the growth of wind and solar is projected to be so swift that the combination of just those two sources would be 18 percent of the U.S. total by 2024, which would exceed coal’s 17 percent.

A key variable is overall electricity consumption. EIA is projecting that this will fall 1 percent in 2023 compared to 2022, due a mild summer. Then, consumption will increase 1 percent in 2024.

We’re hiring!

Please take a look at the new openings in our newsroom.

See jobs

If demand was rising more, then natural gas power would likely gain market share because of gas power plants’ ability to vary their output as needed to respond to changes in demand.

I asked Eric Gimon, a senior fellow at the think tank Energy Innovation, what he thinks of these latest numbers.

He said wind and solar have gotten so big that it almost makes sense to track them as their own categories as opposed to lumping them into the larger category of renewables. He expects that the government will do this sometime soon.

Also, he thinks the projected increases for wind and solar, while substantial, are still smaller than those resources are likely to grow.

“My experience over the last 10 years is that the EIA tends to have flattish forecasts,” he said, meaning the federal office has underestimated the actual growth.

Some energy analysts have criticized EIA for being slow to recognize the growth of renewables. But much of the criticism is about the Annual Energy Outlook, which has numbers going out to mid-century. The Short Term Energy Outlook, with numbers going one year into the future, has been more reliable.

Gimon said EIA is “kind of like your conservative uncle” in its forecasts, so it’s notable that the office expects to see a significant uptick in wind and solar.

Even so, he thinks the latest Short Term Energy Outlook should be read as the lower end of the range of potential increase for wind and solar.

For him to be right, the wind and solar industries will need to figure out solutions to the challenges they’ve been having in obtaining parts; they will need to make progress in dealing with local opposition to many projects and in having enough interstate power lines to deliver the electricity. And, new policies like the Inflation Reduction Act will need to have their desired effect of encouraging projects through the use of tax incentives.

It’s not much of a stretch to imagine that clean energy industries will make some progress on all of those fronts.

This story is funded by readers like you.

Our nonprofit newsroom provides award-winning climate coverage free of charge and advertising. We rely on donations from readers like you to keep going. Please donate now to support our work.

Donate Now

Gimon’s final thought on this is the perpetual caveat about the possibility of being wrong, even though I feel like he’s probably right in his outlook.

He explains this with a paraphrase of a quote that gets attributed to physicist Niels Bohr and Hall of Fame baseball player Yogi Berra: “Making predictions is hard, especially about the future.”

Other stories about the energy transition to take note of this week:

IEA Says Clean Energy Manufacturing Set for Growth as World Enters ‘New Industrial Age’: The International Energy Agency says the world is moving into a new age of clean technology manufacturing that could be worth hundreds of billions of dollars per year by the end of the decade and generate millions of jobs. The Paris-based agency issued a report looking at manufacturing of technologies including wind turbines, heat pumps, batteries for electric vehicles, solar panels and electrolyzers for hydrogen, as Anmar Frangoul reports for CNBC. The report shows that the global market for mass-manufactured clean energy technologies would be roughly $650 billion per year by 2030, more than triple today’s levels.

Depleted Federal Agencies Are a Risk to Effectively Implementing Biden’s Climate Law: The Biden administration’s climate agenda could get squeezed between a chronic shortage of federal workers and threats by House Republicans to slash spending. The new Republican majority in the House has said it wants to roll back discretionary spending to fiscal 2022 levels. Democrats can use their majority in the Senate to stop spending cuts, but Republicans still intend to use deadlines for government funding and for increasing the country’s so-called “debt ceiling” as leverage to extract concessions, as Adam Aton reports for E&E News. This brinkmanship may disrupt federal agencies as they work to implement Biden’s new climate laws and use money from those same laws to rebuild their staffing.

Wyoming GOP Lawmaker Pushes EV Ban, then Says He Didn’t Mean It: A sponsor of a Wyoming bill that would phase out the sale of new electric vehicles seems to have been trying to make a point rather than actually pass his measure. State Sen. Jim Anderson’s bill would phase out the sale of new EVs by 2035, doing for EVs what states like California are doing with rules that will ban the sale of gasoline vehicles by that same year. But when interviewed by The Washington Post, said he doesn’t actually want to phase out EVs. “I don’t have a problem with electric vehicles at all,” he said. “I have a problem with somebody saying, ‘Don’t buy any more petroleum vehicles.’” The proposal, which has now died in committee, according to Wyoming Public Media, is one of many in statehouses across the country dealing with EVs, although most are aiming to encourage their use through the tax incentives and building charging stations, among other steps.

Which States Could Gain the Most from Energy-Saving Building Codes?: Louisiana, North Carolina and Colorado are among the states that would benefit most from updating building energy codes, according to a new report. Energy codes set minimum standards for new construction by requiring features such as thick insulation and efficient windows, which reduce how much energy buildings waste. Some states have more to gain than others from updating these codes, according to an analysis by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, as Alison F. Takemura reports for Canary Media. The states are those that are going through building booms, or have weak existing rules, or some combination of the two.

Inside Clean Energy is ICN’s weekly bulletin of news and analysis about the energy transition. Send news tips and questions to [email protected].

Share this article