Business, Environmental, North America

EIA report: Generation from renewables surpassed coal in April

In April 2019, U.S. monthly electricity generation from all renewable sources exceeded coal-fired generation for the first time, based on data in U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Electric Power Monthly.

EIA includes utility-scale hydropower, wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass in its definition of renewable electricity generation. Renewable sources provided 23% of total electricity generation to coal’s 20%.

This outcome reflects both seasonal factors as well as long-term increases in renewable generation and decreases in coal generation, EIA says. In the U.S., electricity consumption is often lowest in the spring and fall because temperatures are more moderate and electricity demand for heating and air conditioning is relatively low. Consequently, electricity generation from fuels such as natural gas, coal and nuclear is often at its lowest point as some generators undergo maintenance.

EIA says record generation from wind and near-record generation from solar contributed to the rise in renewable electricity generation this spring. Wind generation reached a record monthly high in April 2019 of 30.2 million MWh. Solar generation — including utility-scale solar photovoltaics and utility-scale solar thermal — reached a record monthly high in June 2018 of 7.8 million MWh and will likely surpass that level this summer, EIA says.

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Seasonal increases in hydroelectric generation also helped drive the overall increase in renewable generation. Conventional hydroelectric generation, which remains the largest source of renewable electricity in most months, totaled 25 million MWh in April. EIA says hydro generation tends to peak in the spring as melting snowpack results in increased water supply at downstream generators.

U.S. coal generation has declined from its peak a decade ago. Since the beginning of 2015, about 47 GW of U.S. coal-fired capacity has retired, and virtually no new coal capacity has come online. EIA expects another 4.1 GW of coal capacity will retire in 2019.

EIA expects that coal will provide more electricity generation in the U.S. than renewables in both 2019 and 2020, but it expects renewables to surpass nuclear next year.