US Renewable Energy Will Surpass Coal and Nuclear by Year’s End | Whuff News


Renewables are on track to produce more energy than coal in the United States this year. But the question is whether they can grow fast enough to meet the country’s climate goals.

Supply chain constraints and trade disputes have slowed wind and solar installations, raising questions about the United States’ ability to meet the emissions reductions required by the Affordable Care Act. The Biden administration is banking on ambitious climate legislation to cut emissions 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Many analysts think the United States will finally shake off the slow-down in the Affordable Care Act’s $369 billion in clean energy investments. But it may take time for the law’s impact to be felt. The tax guidelines must be finalized before developers can start cashing in on new facilities, and companies are now facing the headwinds of high interest rates and the looming threat of recession.


The Emissions Reduction Act hinges on the country’s ability to double the rate of renewable installations to record levels in 2020 and 2021, said John Larsen, a partner at the Rhodium Group.

“Every year we cannot add more than the record we lose,” he said. “It will be very difficult to do that in the long run. There are places where we are not getting the results we expected because we blew the first few years of the transition.”

Meanwhile, US renewables are rising. Wind and solar production increased 18 percent in Nov. 20 compared to the same period last year and grew by 58 percent compared to 2019, according to the US Energy Information Administration. The government’s energy tracker predicts that wind, solar and hydro will generate 22 percent of US electricity by the end of this year. That is 20 percent more than coal and 19 percent more than nuclear.

Renewable generation surpassed coal again in 2020, although that year saw a decline in energy production across the board due to economic shutdowns linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Development of wind and solar must continue at an increasing pace to meet the United States’ climate goals. Researchers at Princeton University estimate that the country should install about 50 gigawatts of wind and solar annually between 2022 and 2024, or twice the 25 GW installed by the United States annually in 2020 and 2021.

In the first nine months of this year, the United States installed 11 GW of wind and solar (ClimatewireNov. 3).

Steve Cicala, an economics professor at Tufts University who studies energy markets, said he hopes the Affordable Care Act will eventually lead to renewables. The law provides economic certainty to developers by providing incentives for 10 years. That’s an improvement over the past, where renewable subsidies had to be increased by Congress every few years.

However, there are limits to the law’s impact, he said. Transmission lines must be tied to facilitate such growth. Grid users face the failure of projects trying to connect to the power system. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimate that some 930 GW of wind, solar projects and batteries are waiting to connect to the grid. By comparison, the total capacity of the US power system today is about 1,150 GW.

“The most important thing is that it continues to grow and we’re getting more and more installed capacity and production from renewables,” Cicala said. “The important reason is that it will mean less generation on fossil resources.”

The EIA estimates that gas will drop from 38 percent of US energy production this year to 36 percent next year, while coal will drop from 20 percent to 19 percent. The decline is due to a combination of a weak economy, mild summers and growing renewables, which are projected to increase to 24 percent of US energy production by 2023.

However supply chain concerns have also caused utilities to delay the retirement of coal, as they await the construction of new solar and wind farms. IHS Markit estimates that 13 GW of planned coal retirements are delayed, most by a few years. EIA projects more than 8 GW of coal retirement by 2023.

The climate question is how efficient these coal plants are. If they are used carefully to meet the increased demand for electricity, then their emissions impact will be limited, Larsen said.

But obviously, if coal plants run more than that, [it] “It’s obviously bad news for the climate because coal is still the main source of energy,” he said.

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News provides important news for energy and environmental professionals.



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