Report Challenges EIA’S Renewable Energy Projections

SUN DAY Campaign research refutes EIA renewable energy projections as wildly inaccurate

New research released by the SUN DAY Campaign challenges the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) assertion that only 16 percent of U.S. electrical generation in 2040 will come from renewable sources of energy.

In its “early release review” of the Annual Energy Outlook 2014 (the final release of which is due for publication on April 30, 2014), the EIA’s Reference Case suggests that energy sources from biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, and wind will only account for 16 percent of total generation in 2040.

Using EIA’s own published data, the SUN DAY report – subtitled “why the EIA’s forecast of renewables not reaching 16% until 2040 is almost certainly wrong” –  looks at the 11-year period from January 1, 2003 to December 31, 2013 and the expansion of renewable energy within a decade from less than 9 percent in 2004 to almost 13 percent in 2013. Based on this analysis, it should take take no more than five years for  renewably-sourced generation  to reach the 16 percent level, instead of the 27 years long years asserted by the EIA.

The SUN DAY study emphasizes that historical trends don’t guarantee future performance, but given the remarkably consistent growth of renewable energy, even with mixed policy signals from Congress, projections based on these trends is valid and essential.

Even a modest assumption of continuing trends indicate renewable sources of energy could increase to 13.5 percent of net electrical generation by 2014, bumping up to 14.4 percent in 2015, 15.3 percent in 2016, reaching or eclipsing 16 percent by 2018 – or within five years. A worst case scenario puts renewables at 16 percent by 2020 – still far short of the 2040 mark suggested by the EIA. Given the growth of renewable energy over the past decade, it seems dubious that it will be another 27 years to reach 16 percent of total net generation.

“Thus, EIA’s forecast is not just unduly conservative; almost certainly, it is simply wrong.”

In addition, while EIA data suggests that the percentage of renewable power generation from hydropower, biomass, and geothermal will remain unchanged in coming years, there are other studies indicating the possibility of significant growth. If this is the case, even SUN DAY’s projections may be unduly conservative.

The report also notes that historical trends don’t necessarily demonstrate the “actual cost-effective, near-term deployment potential of renewable energy sources – particularly in light of the rapidly declining costs and technological advances associated with many of them.”

“Inasmuch as policy makers in both the public and private sectors – as well as the media and others – rely heavily upon EIA data when making legislative, regulatory, investment, and other decisions, underestimation can have multiple adverse impacts on the renewable energy industry and, more broadly, on the nation’s environmental and energy future,” says Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “Consequently, EIA is doing a serious disservice to the public by publishing analyses that are inherently inconsistent with its own historical data and near-term projections.”

-The SUN DAY Campaign is a non-profit research and educational organization founded in 1992 to promote sustainable energy technologies as cost-effective alternatives to nuclear power and fossil fuels.

Image credit: theregeneration, courtesy flickr

Thomas Schueneman
Thomas Schueneman
Tom is the founder and managing editor of and the PlanetWatch Group. His work appears in Triple Pundit, Slate, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, Earth911, and several other sustainability-focused publications. Tom is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

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