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Increased Renewable Energy, Natural Gas Generation Likely to Cut Summer Coal Demand: EIA

The U.S. Energy Information Administration is forecasting that the largest increases in U.S. electricity generation this summer will come from solar, wind, and natural gas-fired power plants because of new generating capacity coming online. The rising generation from these sources will likely be offset by reduced generation from coal-fired power plants.

Natural gas remains the primary source of generation in the electric power sector, “and we expect U.S. natural gas-fired generation will grow by 3%, or 16.7 terawatt-hours, this summer compared with last year,” it said.

Additional natural gas-fired generating capacity and favorable fuel costs are the primary drivers of the forecast increase in generation from natural gas this summer.

A large share of the new generating capacity built in the United States over the past few years is powered by solar or wind. The U.S. electric power sector added an estimated 14.5 gigawatts of solar generating capacity and about 8.0 GW of wind capacity during the 12 months ending May 31, 2023.

EIA forecasts that U.S. wind-powered generation this summer will be 7% (5.8 TWh) higher than last summer.

EIA expects that new solar capacity will lead to a 24% (10.8 TWh) increase in solar generation this summer compared with last summer.

Many solar projects are also being built with associated battery storage systems to help provide power when solar and wind resources are low. The electric power sector has added an estimated 5.3 GW of battery capacity in the past 12 months, a nearly 90% increase, EIA said.

“In addition to the continuing growth in generation from renewable energy sources, we forecast 4.5 TWh more nuclear generation this summer than in summer 2022 as result of the planned opening of a new reactor at the Vogtle nuclear power plant.”

Georgia Power announced on May 29 that Vogtle Unit 3 has safely reached 100 percent power, marking a major milestone towards commercial operation. This milestone marks the maximum energy the unit is licensed to produce in the reactor core and is the first time the unit has reached its expected output of approximately 1,100 electric MW.

Southern Nuclear will operate Vogtle 3 and a second new unit, Vogtle 4, on behalf of the co-owners: Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power and public power utilities MEAG Power and Dalton Utilities. MEAG Power is a 22.7% co-owner of Plant Vogtle, including the new units, while Dalton Utilities is a 1.6% co-owner of the plant.

EIA expects the increase in summer generation from solar, wind, and nuclear power to contribute to reduced generation from coal-fired power plants.

Between June 2022 and May 2023, about 11 GW of U.S. coal capacity retired, and EIA expects 15% (36.0 TWh) less U.S. coal-fired generation this summer compared with last summer.