U.S.: Non-hydro renewables generation on track to exceed hydro generation

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports April was the eighth consecutive month in which total monthly non-hydropower renewables generation exceeded monthly hydropower generation in the United States.

While hydropower again exceeded non-hydro generation in May, the most recent available data, EIA projects that 2014 will be the first year in which annual non-hydro renewables generation will surpass annual hydropower generation.

According to EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2014 (AEO2014), the increase in kilowatt-hours generated by renewables will fall second only to natural gas through 2040, while nuclear, coal, petroleum liquid and other forms will flatline or decrease. EIA cites the United States’ emphasis on reducing carbon emissions and both state and federal legislation as the biggest contributors to green energy’s growth. Data indicates electrical generation from renewables (hydropower, biomass, geothermal, solar and wind) could reach or exceed 16 percent by 2018.

Based on AEO2014’s base reference case, EIA says by 2040 non-hydro renewables are projected to provide more than twice as much generation as hydropower.

“In other AEO cases that assume the continuation of tax credits or other policies that support non-hydro renewables, their overall generation and generation share relative to hydropower is much higher,” EIA said.

The dataset used to develop the report includes only generation from plants whose capacity exceeds 1 MW, thereby not including most distributed solar photovoltaic capacity. Inclusion of solar PV capacity, which EIA estimates at 10 billion kWh in 2013, modestly accelerates the timing of the crossover between hydro and non-hydro renewables generation.

October 2012 was the first month on record in which non-hydro renewables generation exceeded hydropower generation. Although that reversal was short-lived because of the significant month-to-month variation in both hydro and non-hydro resources, the trend lines began to cross more frequently in the past year with the most recent reversal lasting from September 2013 through April 2014.

Hydropower capacity has increased slightly more than 1 percent over the past decade, although actual hydropower generation can vary noticeably by season depending on water supply conditions. Wind capacity, on the other hand, has increased nearly tenfold over the same period. Although wind often has lower capacity factors than hydro, wind generation increased from 3 percent to more than 30 percent of total renewables generation between 2003 and 2013.

Hydropower does exceed non-hydro renewables in several states particularly in the Pacific Northwest, where in 2013 conventional hydropower accounted for 69 percent and 56 percent of total electricity generation in Washington and Oregon. Between 2003 and 2013, the number of states for which non-hydro renewables generation exceeded hydropower generation nearly doubled, increasing to 33 from 17 over the period.

The EIA comparison of hydro and non-hydro renewables generation may be obtained from EIA’s Internet site at http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=17351.

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