New data shows coal and nuclear slump while solar and wind surge

By Joshua S Hill
August 14, 2018
Red, Green, and Blue

Reports published over recent weeks by the US Government’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) have revealed that coal and nuclear continue their decline across the country, while renewable energy continues to surge.

So far this month, the EIA has published its “Electric Power Monthly” report and its “Short-Term Energy Outlook” for August, while FERC published its “Energy Infrastructure Update.” When taken together, and excluding an expected decline in utility-scale solar capacity additions (see: Trump’s solar tariffs will slam the industry over the next 2 years) , it is good news for the renewable energy industry and bad news for the United States’ coal and nuclear sectors.

Specifically, the United States’ renewable energy sources — consisting of biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, and wind — now provide more electricity than nuclear power in over half the states across the country, and more electricity than coal in a third of the states.

urther, according to data compiled from the reports by the Sun Day Campaign, over the next three years of capacity additions and retirements, the US coal industry will experience a net-loss of 15.8 gigawatts (GW) and the nuclear industry will only see a net-increase of 0.7 GW.

Conversely, utility-scale renewable energy capacity is expected to skyrocket by 156.9 GW over the same time period, led primarily by wind energy with nearly 91 GW and solar with just over 52 GW.

“EIA and FERC data underscore that the renewable energy train has left the station,” noted Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “Trying to reverse that situation with costly subsidies for environmentally-polluting nuclear power and coal defies common sense.”

“Nuclear and coal simply can’t compete with renewable energy,” said Tim Judson, Executive Director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service. “Renewables will be generating more power than nuclear by 2020, and nuclear is poised for the same precipitous decline as coal in the coming years.”

It’s worth noting that “capacity” is not the same as “generation” — because, as Ken Bossong explains, “nuclear and coal typically have higher capacity factors than most renewable sources” — but one need only look at the figures to see that renewable energy is catching quickly here as well.

Specifically, here’s the breakdown of US electricity generation over the first five months of 2018:

  • Renewable energy generation accounted for 20.17% (up from 14.3% in 2013)
  • Nuclear only provided 20.14%
  • coal provided  26.6% (down from 39% in 2013)

The only substantial negative takeaway is that the EIA has downgraded its forecast utility-scale solar capacity additions for 2019 from 11.4 GW to 6.3 GW “As a result of incoming data reported in the Annual Electric Generator survey.”

This will be combined with an estimated 3.94 GW worth of residential, commercial, and industrial solar, bringing the total 2019 expected solar capacity additions up to 10.3 GW — still 7% growth from the 9.58 GW expected to come online this year.