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Wrong Again: Electrical Generation from Renewable Blows Past EIA Forecast

EIA lowballs estimations for renewable generation 2016

Forecasts from the Energy Information Administration have consistently underestimated the growth of renewable energy development in the United States, a trend that persisted through 2016.

The latest EIA Electric Power Monthly report shows continued rapid growth from all renewable energy sources through December 31, 2016. Electrical generation from solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, and hydropower sources accounted for 15.34 percent of the total for the year, up from 13.65 percent in 2015.

EIA 2016 short term forecast falls short – again

In its January 2016 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), EIA forecast “that total renewables used in the electric power sector to increase by 9.5% in 2016.”  In fact, according to EIA’s own current data, renewable generation from all sources expanded by 12.56 percent in 2016. Non-hydro renewable generation grew by 17.26 percent.

The January 2016 STEO also predicted an annual increase of 14 percent for wind capacity. Power generation from wind expanded 18.75 percent, providing 5.53 percent of total generation in 2016. The report also forecast an increase in hydro power generation of 4.48 percent, missing the mark by nearly 2 percent. Electrical production from hydro actually increased by 6.72 percent.

In its December 2015 STEO, EIA forecast “utility-scale solar power [to] average 0.8% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2016.” Utility solar generation rose more than 0.90 percent. Distributed solar combined with utility-scale solar generation contributed 1.37 percent of total electrical output for the year. Taken together, utility and distributed solar grew by 44.04 percent year-over-year.

Even geothermal power showed a healthy expansion of 9.41 percent in 2016. The only loser for 2016 in the renewable sector came from wood and other biomass, which declined 1.67 percent.

Coal and oil generation decline continues

Electrical generation from petroleum liquids and coke plunged 15.37 percent. Solar-generated electrical power is now more than double that of petroleum sources. The decline of coal-generated power persists, dropping 8.30 percent, calling into question president Trump’s “promise” to bring coal jobs back.

Generation from natural gas and nuclear grew by only 3.47 and 1.02 percent respectively.

EIA forecasts little renewable energy growth in 2017?

Adding up all current sources of electricity production, renewable energy provided 8.85 percent of total generation in 2016. Despite the continuing strong growth trend for renewable energy generation in the U.S., The latest STEO released by the EIA on February 7, 2017, projects that “non-hydropower renewables are forecast to provide 9 percent of electricity generation in 2017.”

In other words, the EIA anticipates little significant growth in renewable power generation in 2017. This is baffling, considering all evidence to the contrary. The market for renewable energy remains a major source of jobs and economic growth. This is troubling for many analysts, including Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign.

“Given the trends of recent years, it is probably no great surprise that solar, wind, and other renewable sources once again surpassed EIA’s expectations,” noted Bossong:

“Yet, EIA continues to low-ball its latest forecasts for renewables thereby doing a serious disservice to the cross-section of rapidly growing clean energy technologies.”


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

Image credit: Richard Walker, courtesy Flickr

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