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EIA Underestimating Renewable Energy Growth, Analysis Finds

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Tuesday April 29th, 2014 | 2 Comments

windturbinesAnalysis by the nonprofit research group Sun Day Campaign finds that renewable energy sources in the U.S. could reach or exceed 16 percent by 2018. That is years before the Energy Information Administration predicts the nation will reach that share of renewable sources. The EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2014 predicts that by 2040 renewable energy would only make 16 percent of the country’s net electrical generation. Sun Day analysis finds that renewable energy has increased from less than nine percent in 2004 to almost 13 percent in 2013.

Many rely on EIA data, including policy makers and the media. “Underestimation can have multiple adverse impacts on the renewable energy industry and, more broadly, on the nation’s environmental and energy future,” said Ken Bossong, executive director of the Sun Day Campaign. By underestimating the share of renewable sources, “EIA is doing a serious disservice to the public by publishing analyses that are inherently inconsistent with its own historical data and near-term projections,” Bossong added.

Good news for wave, wind and solar energy

Sun Day Campaign’s analysis has some good news for wave energy, which cites several studies that find the recoverable energy from U.S. wave to be 1,170 terawatt hours (TWh)  and tidal resources to be  66 TWh. The total U.S. electricity demand is 4,000 TWh. However, the development of wave and tidal energy practices may mean much smaller output, but if just a 10 percent extraction is reached, it would equal the output of 37 large fossil fuel plants. There is more good news: the U.S. Department of Energy is putting $16 million into developing 16 wave and tidal energy projects.

There’s reason to be optimistic about wind energy. The International Energy Agency thinks that 18 percent of the world’s electricity could come from wind power in 2050, an increase of six percent from 2009 predictions. A recently released report from MAKE Consulting predicts that the North American wind market will grow 207 percent from last year, when 2.7 gigawatts (GW) were added. This year, 8.3 GW is expected to be added. In 2013, wind energy’s share of net electrical generation was 4.13 percent. From 2007 to 2013 the amount of electricity output from wind has increased each year by an average of 22,203 thousand megawatt hours (MWh). There are 12,000 MW of new wind projects in the works, which equals 20 percent of the current capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). Sun Day Campaign predicts that wind’s share of net electrical generation will increase to 4.5 percent in 2014, 5 percent in 2015 and 5.5 percent in 2016.

Solar grew by 50 percent from 2010 to 2011 and then by 138 percent in 2012 and by 114 percent in 2013. Sun Day Campaign predicts that a continued doubling of solar power generation may be possible for the next couple of years, but after that may grow in increments starting in 2016. A report titled “Commercial Rooftop Revolution” predicts that within a decade, over 35 million buildings may be generating their own solar power. Two other reports are also optimistic about solar. One report predicts that 220 GW of distributed solar PV capacity will be installed between 2013 and 2018. Another report predicts that the solar PV market will grow to $155 billion in 2018, with China being the largest market and the U.S. being the second-largest market.

Image credit: KALi


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  • Hansen Harlley

    In the first quarter, the Renewable Energy expects to have sold “at the lower end” of its guided range of 45-55 million gallons.http://goo.gl/Ovrgmq

  • http://www.TheStellaGroupLtd.com/ Scott Sklar

    Bossong is correct that EIA has trouble accurately predicting growth rates of “disruptive” technologies including energy efficiency. They also track only grid-intertied electricity, and on-siterenewables also has a large dedicated-load market in the commercial and agricultural sectors as well as public infrastructure. Scott Sklar, Adjunct Professor, GWU