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EIA Energy Outlook Sees Renewables Reaching 44% of U.S. Power Generation

The share of U.S. power generation from renewable generation will reach 44 percent by 2050, according to projections from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The projected increase, from 21 percent in 2021 to 44 percent in 2050, will mainly come from new wind and solar power resources, according to the EIA’s most recent Annual Energy Outlook 2022.

The contribution of other forms of renewable energy, such as hydropower, will remain largely unchanged through 2050 and sources such as geothermal and biomass will collectively remain at less than 3 percent of total generation, EIA said.

Solar power, both utility-scale solar farms and small-scale rooftop end-use systems, will overtake wind power as a generation source by the early 2030s, according to EIA projections.

While the early growth in wind and solar was driven by federal tax credits set to expire or to significantly decline by 2026, declining costs for both technologies now play a significant role in both near- and long-term growth, EIA said.

Meanwhile, the share of U.S. fossil fuel-fired power generation is expected to decline from 60 percent to 44 percent as a result of the continued retirement of coal-fired plants and the slow growth in natural gas-fired generation, according to EIA projections.

The EIA noted that although gas-fired generation is expected to increase in absolute terms, the share of natural gas in the total generation mix is likely to decrease slightly, from 37 percent in 2021 to 34 percent in 2050.

Coal and nuclear plants will continue to retire, the EIA said, with nuclear power’s contribution to overall power generation dropping from 19 percent in 2021 to 12 percent in 2050 and coal’s contribution declining from 23 percent in 2021 to 10 percent in 2050.

The EIA expects generation from renewable sources to increase to offset the declining share of generation from coal and nuclear sources, mainly because existing regulatory programs and market factors incentivize renewable sources.

Although not recorded in the EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook as a generation source, energy storage, either as stand-alone batteries or solar-battery hybrid systems, will play a role in the growth of renewable resources by making renewables more competitive with natural gas generation by providing back-up capacity for times when non-dispatchable renewable sources are unavailable, the EIA said.

Last August, the EIA reported that the installed capacity of large-scale energy storage batteries grew by 35 percent in 2020 and tripled in the last five years.

The EIA’s most recent Annual Energy Outlook also projects that electricity demand will grow slowly, increasing competition among fuels. U.S. production of natural gas and petroleum, meanwhile, will continue to rise, driven by growing demand for exports and from industry.

EIA projections also show that electricity will continue to be the fastest growing energy source in buildings with renewables and natural gas providing most of the incremental electricity supply.