Although solar generates less electricity than wind power, it is growing faster, according to the latest Short Term Energy Outlook (STEO), released Tuesday by the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA).
The EIA projects that solar generation will go from 211,000 MWh per day in 2017 to 260,000 MWh/d in 2018, a 23% increase, and to 290,000 MWh/d in 2019, another 12% increase.
- The latest STEO also cuts the amount of utility-scale solar capacity that the EIA expects to come online in 2019 to 6.3 GW — a 45% drop from the 11.4 GW forecast in last month's STEO.
The change in solar power capacity additions "is not related to recent developments in the solar market, such as the new tariffs or changes in policy," Tyler Hodge, lead electric market analyst at EIA, told Utility Dive via email, though, he added, "We may be examining the effect of these issues in future STEO forecasts."
Solar power advocates feared the tariffs the Trump administration imposed on certain foreign made photovoltaic cells and modules in January would cause a crisis in the solar industry, but the impact has so far turned out to be less than anticipated.
The EIA's tempered forecast, as Tyler noted, was not related to such fundamental factors, but to a change in methodology. For its forecasts, the EIA primarily relies on the preliminary data from a monthly inventory of electric generators.
In the past, STEO capacity addition forecasts were generally benchmarked to the EIA's Annual Energy Outlook (AEO), but the agency's statistics office recently collected some early information about future solar projects that had not been reflected in the latest annual survey. As a result, "We have changed our assumptions in the STEO for potential capacity builds in 2019 to be closer to this new data rather than relying strictly on the AEO 2018 projection," Tyler said.
Both the STEO and the upcoming AEO, scheduled for release in January, will incorporate the refined capacity statistics. That means the new AEO projections for 2019 will likely be close to the 6.3 GW in the new STEO forecast, Tyler said.
Forecasts for other generating sources show other trends continuing:
- The EIA estimates that wind generation averaged 697,000 MWh per day in 2017 and forecasts that it will rise by 7% to 746,000 MWh/d in 2018 and by another 5% in 2019 to 782,000 MWh/d.
- Generation from natural gas also continued to rise, according to the STEO. EIA expects gas-fired generation to rise from 32% of total U.S. utility-scale electricity production in 2017 to 34% in 2018 and to 35% in 2019.
- Coal's share of U.S. electric generation, on the other hand, continues to decline, according to the EIA, falling from 30% in 2017 to 29% in 2018 and 27% in 2019.
- Nuclear power's share of the nation's generation mix is expected to remain steady at 20% in 2017 and 2018 and then fall to 19% in 2019, according to the STEO.
- Non-hydropower renewables provided slightly less than 10% of electricity generation in 2017, according to the EIA and are expected to provide more than 10% in 2018 and nearly 11% in 2019.