Renewables to reach over 14% of U.S. electricity generation this year

02. February 2016 | Markets & Trends, Special | By:  Christian Roselund

The latest data from the U.S. Energy Department projects that utility-scale wind and solar will supply 5.2% and 0.8% of U.S. electricity in 2016, which will support an overall 9.5% growth in renewable generation.

EIA forecasts that utility-scale solar and wind together will meet 6% of U.S. electric demand.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Information Administration (EIA) is an official source for U.S. energy statistics. And while EIA’s credibility on solar had suffered from its habit of not counting behind-the-meter solar generation in its Monthly Energy Outlook publication, the agency corrected that fault in December.

Today EIA forecast that large-scale renewable energy, including hydroelectricity, will rise to 14% of U.S. electricity generation in 2016, with utility-scale solar representing 0.8% of that. This will represent a 28% increase in solar output over 2015 levels.

The agency specifically excluded distributed solar, which both kWh Analytics and EIA say represents around a third of total generation. Thus if behind-the-meter solutions were included, solar could supply around 1.2% of electricity generation in 2016, and renewables overall around 14.5%.

EIA says that wind will make up 5.2% of electricity generation during the year, and when biomass is added non-hydro renewables will represent around 8.5% of generation. Hydropower will add around 6%, and EIA expects a 5% increase in hydropower output in 2016 due to heavy precipitation in the West, courtesy of the El Niño weather phenomenon.

The agency notes that the share of solar in the U.S. energy mix is expected to rise given the 13 GW of utility-scale solar forecast to come online in 2015 and 2016. The agency predicts that utility-scale solar will rise to 1.1% of U.S. electricity generation in 2017.

EIA further estimates that 4.9 GW of this utility-scale solar will be built in California. An analysis of California grid operator statistics and third-party data conducted by Utility Dive shows that distributed and utility-scale solar already represents nearly 10% of California's electricity generation, roughly 10x the national average and more than any nation on earth.

While overall U.S. electricity generation from solar is around the global average of 1%, solar and other renewable energy deployment is well below levels in Western Europe. In the nations of Italy, Greece and Germany, solar PV meets 6-8% of electricity demand annually, and at least four Western European nations - Denmark, Germany, Portugal and Spain - meet over 25% of annual electric demand with non-hydro renewables.

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