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ENERGY ECLIPSE

The first two months of 2020 belonged to solar and wind

Michael J. Coren
By Michael J. Coren

Climate reporter

From our Obsession

The climate economy

Every decision counts.

In the United States, the majority of electricity generation still comes from fossil fuels, primarily natural gas (38%) and coal (23%). Energy analysts have predicted that’s the way it will stay for many decades. As recently as last year, the US Energy Information Administration forecast natural gas would remain America’s top electricity source through at least 2050.

It has now switched that stance. Renewables are now expected to be America’s top electricity source by 2050. Utilities are opting to jump straight into solar and wind as the falling price of renewables (often paired with batteries) turns them into a viable alternative. Most recently, data collected by the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (pdf) shows 86% of new installed capacity at the start of this year came from solar and wind. Natural gas accounted for the rest. (Coal and oil, unsurprisingly, were absent.)

That trend is expected to continue. By 2023, FERC estimates, the US grid is likely to add 51 GW of new renewables (solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, hydropower), while building 30 GW of new natural gas capacity. (Over that same period, 29 GW of coal, oil, and natural gas assets are expected to be retired.) Natural gas plants remain a key supplier of peak and base load generation. But once energy storage becomes cheaper, it will become even harder to compete with batteries and other technologies.

The biggest storm on the horizon for renewables is the Covid-19 pandemic. The EIA projects US electricity retail sales will fall by almost 5% in 2020, leading to fewer new wind and solar installations. The renewables industry is still waiting on Congress to grant an extension on expiring tax credits threatening delayed projects, and must sort out global supply chain issues. Its future, however, appears undimmed.

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