Renewables in the United States will overtake coal and nuclear by the end of the year

Renewables in the United States will overtake coal and nuclear by the end of the year

Renewables are on track to produce more electricity 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 achieve the emissions reductions targeted by the Cut Inflation Act. The Biden administration is banking on the landmark climate law that will cut emissions 40% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Many analysts believe that the United States will eventually shake off the slowdown thanks to the $369 billion in clean energy investments from the Inflation Reduction Act. But it may take time for the impact of the law to be felt. Tax guidelines need to be finalized before developers start investing in new facilities, and businesses now face headwinds in the form of higher interest rates and the looming threat of a recession.

The Cut Inflation Act’s emissions cuts depend on the country’s ability to at least double the rate of renewable installations from record levels seen in 2020 and 2021, said group partner John Larsen. Rhodium.

“Every year we don’t have capacity additions beyond the record, that’s lost ground,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot harder to make up for that over time. There is a time when we don’t get the results we projected because we missed the early years of transition.

For now, renewable energy production in the United States is slightly higher. Wind and solar output was up 18% through Nov. 20 from the same time last year and up 58% from 2019, according to the US Energy Information Administration. The government’s energy tracker projects that wind, solar and hydro will produce 22% of US electricity by the end of this year. This is more than coal at 20% and nuclear at 19%.

Renewable generation also overtook coal in 2020, although that year saw a decline in power generation across the board due to economic lockdowns associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Wind and solar growth must continue at a breakneck pace to meet US climate goals. Researchers at Princeton University estimate that the country needs to install about 50 gigawatts of wind and solar power per year between 2022 and 2024, about double the 25 GW the United States installed each year in 2020 and 2021. .

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

Steve Cicala, an economics professor at Tufts University who studies energy markets, said he was optimistic the Cut Inflation Act will eventually spark a renewable energy boom. The law provides economic security to developers by providing incentives over 10 years. This is an improvement over the past, where renewable grants had to be extended by Congress every two years.

Still, there are limits to the law’s impacts, he said. Transmission lines should be strung to facilitate this growth. Grid operators face a backlog of projects trying to connect to the power system. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimates that some 930 GW of wind, solar and battery projects are waiting to connect to the grid. By comparison, the total capacity of the US electrical system today is around 1,150 GW.

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

The EIA thinks gas will drop from 38% of electricity generation in the United States this year to 36% next year, while coal will drop from 20% to 19%. The decline is due to a mix of a weaker economy, a cooler summer and growing renewable energy, which is expected to reach 24% of electricity generation in the United States in 2023.

Yet supply chain issues have also prompted utilities to delay coal withdrawals, pending construction of new solar and wind farms. IHS Markit estimates that 13 GW of planned coal retirements have been delayed, most by a few years. The EIA predicts more than 8 GW of coal withdrawals for 2023.

The question for the climate is how much these coal-fired plants actually run. If used sparingly to meet increases in electricity demand, their impact on emissions will be limited, Larsen said.

“But obviously, if the coal-fired plants are running more than that, [it] is obviously bad news for the climate because coal remains the main source of emissions in the electricity sector,” he said.

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

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