Renewables Blow Past EIA's Projections; Wind + Solar Grow 23% in 2016

01 Mar 2017

According to the latest issue of the U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) "Electric Power Monthly" report (with data through December 31, 2016), renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) continued their rapid growth and accounted for 15.34% of domestic electrical generation in 2016 -- compared to 13.65% in 2015.

Moreover, the growth in renewables once again handily surpassed EIA's earlier forecasts for the sector.

In its "Short-Term Energy Outlook" (STEO) released on January 12, 2016, EIA  said it "expect[ed] total renewables used in the electric power sector to increase by 9.5% in 2016." In fact, in 2016, electrical output by renewables (including hydropower) increased by 12.56% while non-hydro renewables grew by 17.26%. EIA also forecast wind capacity "to increase by 14% in 2016." In actuality, generation expanded by 18.75% and provided 5.53% of domestic electrical output last year. Similarly, EIA "forecast hydropower generation in the electric power sector [to] increase by 4.8% in 2016." In reality, hydro's electrical production rose by 6.72%.   

EIA's January 2016 STEO did not offer a projection for solar in 2016 but its December 2015 STEO forecast "utility-scale solar power [to] average 0.8% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2016." Utility-scale solar generation in 2016 actually exceeded 0.90% while utility-scale and distributed solar combined accounted for 1.37% of total electrical output. In fact, electrical output by utility-scale plus distributed solar grew by 44.04% in 2016 compared to 2015.

By comparison, electrical generation by coal dropped by 8.30% and that from petroleum liquids & coke plummeted by 15.37%. (Solar-generated electricity is now more than double that from petroleum sources.) Electrical output attributable to natural gas and other gases increased by just 3.47% while growth in the nuclear power sector was an anemic 1.02%.

Beyond the growth experienced by solar, wind, and hydropower, geothermal also charted a 9.41% expansion in 2016. Among renewable sources, only wood and other forms of biomass experienced a decline last year - down by 1.67%.

Taken together, non-hydro renewables (i.e., biomass, geothermal, solar, wind) accounted for 8.85% of electrical generation in 2016. Nonetheless, in its latest STEO (issued February 7, 2017), EIA inexplicably states: "Nonhydropower renewables are forecast to provide 9% of electricity generation in 2017." That is, EIA apparently anticipates no significant increase by non-hydro renewables in 2017 notwithstanding the sustained strong growth by these technologies in 2016 and during the several years prior.

"Given the trends of recent years, it is probably no great surprise that solar, wind, and other renewable sources once again surpassed EIA's expectations," noted Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. "Yet, EIA continues to low-ball its latest forecasts for renewables thereby doing a serious disservice to the cross-section of rapidly growing clean energy technologies."

U.S. Energy Information Administration |