Published on April 16th, 2014 | by Silvio Marcacci


Just How Off Is EIA’s Renewable Energy Outlook? How About 20+ Years?

April 16th, 2014 by  

Is the US Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) forecast for the future of renewable energy in America wrong? It’s an important question, considering policy decisions and private investments are often set by EIA guidance.

EIA’s “Annual Energy Outlook 2014” early release overview predicted renewables would supply only 16% of US electricity demand by 2040, but a new analysis of EIA’s own data finds the outlook is “almost certainly wrong.”

According to the Sun Day Campaign, renewables will make up a much larger percentage of America’s energy portfolio, much faster than EIA projects – roughly 20 years faster, in fact.

EIA’s Renewable Energy Forecast “Simply Wrong”

EIA data shows renewable energy sources (biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, and wind) grew from less than 9% of total US supply in 2004 to nearly 13% in 2013 on the strength of solar photovoltaic and wind energy’s rapid growth.

That expansion rate raised concerns about EIA’s 16% by 2040 projection. “Given the relatively consistent growth trends of the past decade or longer for most renewable energy sources and their rapidly declining costs, it seems improbable that it will require another 27 years to grow from 13% to 16%,” said Ken Bossong, Sun Day executive director. “Thus, EIA’s forecast is not just unduly conservative; almost certainly, it is simply wrong.”

Sun Day’s analysis parsed EIA data for renewable energy sources within US net electrical generation from 2003 through 2013, and it paints a vastly different picture. If past trends continue, Sun Day forecasts, renewable energy will reach 13.5% in 2014, 14.4% in 2015, 15.3% in 2016, and 16% no later than 2018. That’s five years, not 27, if you’re counting along at home.

Interestingly, even Sun Day’s forecast may be too conservative. Five years ago, the decline of solar PV module prices as well as Production Tax Credit (PTC)-fueled boom and bust of wind may have been impossible to predict. Sun Day notes projections based on EIA data suggest hydropower, biomass, and geothermal contributions will remain largely unchanged, even as other studies suggest significant growth.

Solar And Wind Energy Lead The Charge

So if Sun Day is so bullish on renewable energy’s future, where will the US generate all this new capacity? Unsurprisingly, the answer is probably solar and wind.

Wind energy made up 4.13% of net electrical generation in 2013, with the amount of wind power growing by an average of 22,200 thousand megawatt-hours (MWh) annually from 2007 to 2013. Uncertainty over the PTC means that pace is unlikely to continue, but Sun Day uses the American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) report of 12 gigawatts in the development pipeline to forecast wind energy’s contribution to hit 4.5% in 2014, 5% in 2015, and 5.5% in 2016.

Despite record-setting new solar installations in 2013, solar energy is still one of the smallest overall contributors to US electricity supply, but that’s about to change. Grid-connected solar contributed just 0.23% of net electricity in 2013, but that’s after 50% growth from 2010-2011, 138% growth from 2011-2012, and 114% growth from 2012-2013.

Sun Day combines these growth rates with the number of projects expected to come online in 2014 and 2015 to forecast an exponential expansion of net solar generation to .45% in 2014, .9% in 2015, and 1.37% in 2016. Exciting expectations, considering EIA only expects solar to generate .5% by 2015.

Other Renewables Hold Flat

The growth of wind and solar looks even more impressive when compared to other forms of renewable energy, and shows where the real growth will occur. Hydropower, biomass, and geothermal are all projected to hold steady over the next few years.

Hydropower has long been the “baseload” renewable electricity source, and the dominant percentage of renewables in US energy supply with 6.63% in 2013, but that sector’s potential may be tapped. Some small hydro facilities and upgrades at existing plants are expected to come online, but decreased water supply due to climate change may offset those additions to hold flat. Sun Day forecasts hydropower’s share will actually decrease as other renewables surge, falling to 6.55% by 2016.

Small hydropower facility

Small hydropower facility image via CleanTechnica

That same trend is expected for biomass and geothermal, as generation increases but overall percentages remain flat, according to Sun Day. Biomass (wood-based fuels, landfill gas, municipal solid waste, and other waste) is expected to hold steady at 1.48% from 2013 through 2016, and geothermal is projected to remain constant at .41% from 2013 through 2016.

While it’s worth noting EIA estimates both geothermal and biomass to increase between 2013 and 2015, that discrepancy may be a direct result of Sun Day’s more aggressive outlook.

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

About the Author

Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate policy public relations company based in Oakland, CA.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Thanks to Real L’s file fiddling here it is…

    Dear Mr. Wallace:

    Thank you for your email of January 7, 2014. I was asked to respond to your email to Secretary Moniz dated January 7th, 2014. I understand your primary concerns are that the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) renewable projections are lower than the recently experienced growth trends, that previous solar PV projections have not been borne-out by actual experience, and that the projections are not sufficiently highlighted in the Annual Energy Outlook Early Release.

    The Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) projections are not intended to reflect recent growth rates for any particular technology or energy resource. Rather, they are intended to reflect EIA’s assessment of how the market will evolve under the specific economic and policy conditions established in the various projection cases. The AEO20l4 Reference case you cite was released at the beginning of December 201 3. It reflected current laws and policies of the Federal Government and the various states as of the fall of 2013. At the time the AEO20l4 Reference case was prepared and released, the Production Tax Credit (FTC) for wind and most other renewables was scheduled to expire, and was subsequently allowed to expire, at the end of December 2013 for projects not yet under development. For utility and commercially owned PV projects, the 30 percent solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is available through 2016, but assumed to revert to 10 percent; for PV projects installed and owned by homeowners, the 30 percent ITC is assumed to go away completely at the end of 2016.

    Based on EIA’s analysis of the market, the availability of the PTC and ITC have played an important role in the recent substantial growth in the wind and solar markets, and the projections included in the Reference case reflect, in part, the significance of these expiration dates. Because PTC-eligible technologies that were in development as of the end of 2013 (defined as being under construction or having spent at least 5 percent of total capital costs) may claim the PTC, and because EIA assumes that these projects may take as long as three or four years for development, the benefit of the PTC is effectively assumed to end around the same time that the 30 percent ITC for solar lapses in 2016.

    However, the lapse of these Federal tax credits is only part of the reason projected renewable capacity growth levels-off in the 2015 to 2025 timeframe. EIA projects a slight net reduction in electric power generating capacity across all technology types from 2014 through 2023, with only modest growth after 2023. This indicates a very weak market for new capacity additions of any kind, with gross additions during this period primarily supported by the projected retirement of a number of coal plants. Although renewables such as wind and solar benefit marginally in the near-term from these coal retirements (especially while the Federal tax credits are effectively available), much of the replacement capacity for these plants comes from natural gas units, in large part because of the projected low natural gas prices and in part because renewables such as wind and solar do not provide the same contribution to grid reliability and time-of-day generation services as the retiring coal plants. However, low growth rates for electricity demand and an abundance of new natural gas, wind, and solar capacity built in the past 10 years leaves little room for capacity additions of any sort in the next 10 years beyond those needed to replace retiring coal plants.

    Another factor in recent renewable industry growth has been state-level renewable portfolio standards (RPS) policies. However, due to the substantial build-out of wind and solar capacity in the past 5 to 10 years, many of these RPS programs are at or near capacity, and will not incentivize new builds until the targets ramp-up to meet current capacity levels. RPS targets are typically specified as a percentage of total generation, which means that the recent and projected slow growth in electricity demand also tends to moderate the absolute requirement for renewable generation.

    You believe that EIA’s previous projections for renewable capacity have a history of massive underestimation of renewable growth. However, the particular example you cite suggests a mistaken understanding of the underlying projection. Specifically, you compare the 0.45 GW PV projection from AEO 2010 for utility-scale PV in 2035 to a FERC estimate of 7.11 GW of grid-tied PV for 2013. In fact, the AEO 2010 projects 14.55 GW of grid-tied PV for 2035, and 6.23 GW of grid-tied PV for 2013, as the PV projected under the “end-use generators” heading of the projection is also “grid tied”.

    While not a perfect forecast for grid-tied PV, I’m not sure it is well characterized as a “massive underestimation”. Further, if other renewable projections from that same AEO 2010 volume are considered, EIA’s non-hydro renewable capacity projection was not an underestimate at all, but rather an overestimate of capacity achieved at the end of 2013. Looking at the solar, wind, and geothermal capacities listed in the FERC report ( although it is not clear that any of the categories from FERC correspond to categories used by the AEO, these three seem to have the least difficulty in matching), BIA projects over 74 GW of combined capacity, compared to FERC’s estimate of 71.5 GW.

    Of course, not all EIA projections have been so accurate. For example, because of the “current laws and policies” assumption of the AEO Reference cases, projections from AEO 2009 and prior assumed that the Federal tax credits for renewables expired much earlier than they eventually did, and also were not able to account for all of the changes to state RPS policy that have occurred in the past 4 year’s. However, renewable sector projections that are based on policy scenarios much closer to actual policy implementation have tended to perform within a reasonable range of actual market performance, as exemplified by the projections from the AEO 2010 cited above.

    Finally, you are concerned that EIA does not sufficiently highlight its renewable energy projections in the ABC 2014 Early Release publication. This publication is not intended as a comprehensive analytic document, but rather is primarily a collection of results in tabular form from the Reference case. The release of the full AEO 2014 document this spring will contain several sections highlighting renewable electricity results and will discuss the factors and trends underlying the projections. In the past, renewable electricity trends have been highlighted and discussed in the “Issues in Focus’, “Legislation and Regulations”, and “Market Trends” sections of the full AEO report. [link to AEO 2013 version of each of these?] Unfortunately, the desire to get the data out to the public sooner rather than later means that the release of the analysis lags.

    You close your e-mail by asking “what changes have been made to the model to improve this terrible forecasting record?” As noted, EIA updates its projections each year to account for changes in policy, which have generally improved the projections for PV and wind (including in the AEO volume you cite), as policies with somewhat longer durations have been developed in the past 5 years. In addition, BIA reviews and, as appropriate, updates key assumptions for the cost and performance of renewable energy technologies, other competing technologies in the electric power sector, as well as assumptions and projections for growth in electricity demand, fuel costs, and other policies that may have a significant impact on demand for electricity in general and renewable generation in particular. During the summer of each year, EIA hosts a renewable electricity working group to discuss EIA’s current activities to update the model and assumptions for renewable electricity technologies. If you would like to participate in the working group
    meeting, please email Christopher Namovicz at or Gwendolyn Bredehoeft at



    John J. Conti

    Assistant Administrator for Energy Analysis

    U.S. Energy Information Administration

    • A Real Libertarian

      No problem.

    • TCFlood

      Thanks, Bob.

      I read the EIA response as the attachment to your email, but it’s good to have it posted publicly.

      Unfortunately it’s just the sort of response one would expect. (I just saw that wonderful Upton Sinclair quote on another thread on this site.)

      I always have this naive fantasy that they would say they understand the problem and are doing X, Y, and Z to try to remedy it. Right.

      • Bob_Wallace

        I’ve been wondering if it might make sense to take this issue to one or more of the senators on the Energy and National Resources Committee?

        I see a couple names of people who give a damn on the list.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Hydro isn’t “tapped”.

    An Assessment of Energy Potential at Non-powered Dams in the United States, compiled by the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL),

    ” The study found that the nation has over 50,000 suitable non-powered dams with the technical potential to add about 12 gigawatts (GW) of clean, renewable hydropower capacity. The 100 largest capacity facilities—primarily locks and dams on the Ohio, Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas rivers operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—could provide 8 GW of power combined.”

  • Raymond Del Colle

    “America has the natural resources to meet its energy demand with clean, renewable energy. It’s time to harness that full potential.”

  • Bobnikon1

    It doesn’t matter how advanced technology we have acquired when we can’t get the continuation of energy flow there is nothing much technology can do. That’s why we still depend mainly on carbon footprint. enough is enough, it’s time to look at something new and viable:-
    Mother Nature is the only one planet amongst her siblings in this universe who can support lives. Not only that she supports all of her inhabitants in her facilities but she also nurtures them with all the balances of her elements. The perfect combinations of air, land, water and gravity. Additionally, she orbits around the sun at a certain distance in order to maintain the moderate level of radiation from the sun and also revolves around herself thus all inhabitants can have what they need to grow. Most of them have thrived. There is one creature amongst them whose way of life has impacted effectively on Mother Nature. The impacts that can alter the balances of her elements. The impacts that can wipe out her precious elements which she has saved for millions of years. That creature is human being. The way humans live their lives is different from any other creatures as we have learned.
    Our Mother Nature is so nice to us. She provides us with things that we need. Things(fossil deposits) that she has saved for millions of years. We pick them out from her purse to consume, then we leave garbage(toxic waste,green house gases,ashes) for her to clean up. That is not very nice, is that? It is very despicable for mother this nice to receive the treatment like this. But it is inevitable because we need to live on.
    At some point of time some of us come up with ideas to amend the dire situations by offering the green energy as an alternative to obtain energy. There are several methods to produce clean energy but all of them are futile. Because every method comes up with conditions and restrictions to determine when the apparatus is able to produce energy and when not to be able to. So it will be inadequate energy. We fail to get rid of the despicable treatments that we have been giving to our mother. We have been tied up with the dire situations for quite some time.
    I have observed and despised the dire situations for all along. Until about 4 years ago I came across something very interesting and unprecedented. This idea is to build the apparatus that is driven by the gravitational and buoyant forces. It works in any waters. Once being set up and running, this apparatus will generate ample supply of electricity by itself around the clock anywhere on this planet. There are no pros and cons to discuss about, neither conditions nor restrictions. The great news is that we can eventually extricate ourselves completely from the carbon footprint and the notion “save energy”. as well. Eventually, we can treat our nice mother the way that she deserves.
    There are three major elements that all of us rely on for our energy needs. Natural gas, coal and crude oil. These are actually wrong elements to be used to fulfill our energy needs. The effects of using them are sinister that could come to hurt us seriously in some ways. Additionally, these are limited supplies. They should have been used for some specific applications. It will be a huge mistake if we just live on without doing any corrections. We are human being, we live our lives with plans. This is what makes us different from any other earth inhabitants. Most people have realized that but what are the alternatives? HYDRO-ELECTRENERGY is an answer to this question but in order to be completely extricated from carbon footprint we have to get one more element under control. That element is hydrogen.
    Hydrogen is an ubiquitous element on earth. It is proven to be a right element that will eradicate the carbon footprint out of our lives. Unfortunately, it can not stay by itself in our environment that we can just grab it. It coheres with some other elements by chemical bond. The significant amount of electricity as an energy is required to break these bond. In order to obtain usable amount of hydrogen.
    Hydrogen has been proven to be the best source of energy but it has hit the road block. It does not make sense to produce hydrogen from conventional sources and also too expensive. When we already have crude oil to support our energy needs. So people are counting on alternative methods but with all methods that we acquire are inadequate to produce hydrogen to support our energy needs. That is why hydrogen has hit road block and stopped on its track. In fact, nice things about what hydrogen can do are nothing new to our knowledge. Is hydrogen tantalizingly out of our reach? Yes..but…not any more. Here is when the big plan is being implemented on this issue. Since this system can produce ample supply of electricity. We are now capable of producing hydrogen in significant amount at a very low cost or no cost at all. We now can expel the carbon footprint out of our lives once and for all. We can live our lives without carbon footprint at last.
    Hydrogen can be extracted from some substances available in our atmosphere. The only one substance with benign consequences for Mother Nature is water. It is abundant in our surroundings. Water can be from any available sources and it doesn’t have to be purified. So it is practically cost free for hydrogen production since there is an ample supply of electricity being generated at no running costs.
    The great thing that happens when water is chosen as raw material to produce hydrogen is that we do not consume water in the process. We borrow water from Mother Nature and after we use energy then we give water back to her. Remember, hydrogen that is extracted from water is being forced to cohere with oxygen in the air by the chemical reaction(combustion). Energy and water are the results. Now we have the energy to fulfill our needs and the water is released back to earth. That is the idea of recycling. We just need energy to nourish our preferred lifestyle and we have found the way to recycle the water to get energy we need. Isn’t that fantastic? It is time folks to wake up and smell the aroma of flowers after being smothered by the carbon smoke for too long. But first, before all these happen we have to congregate to get the prototype up and running. So please go to look through the whole website. If you agree on the idea, please donate small contribution to the project. Many hands can lift the big project off the ground.

  • Dan Daniel

    I am glad to see someone reporting on how bad these forecasts have been. Forecasts can become self-fulfilling prophecies. I suspect that is exactly what the fossil fuel companies are hoping for. One factor that may finally change this is global warming. If the weather keeps getting worse and worse as many predict, people may really start to get serious about renewable energy. Got my fingers crossed!

  • Bob_Wallace

    Emailed the pdf to you.

    Anyone help me out with converting a pdf file to regular text? I tried a couple of free on line converters but they were flawed.

    • A Real Libertarian

      What was the problem?

      Have you tried this:

      • Bob_Wallace

        Thanks. Returned a corrupt file. Open Office couldn’t open it.

        • A Real Libertarian

          Can you E-Mail me the file?

          • Bob_Wallace


  • shecky vegas

    I’m surprised not to see more growth in geothermal. It can be a baseload like hydro and operates 24/7.

    • Hydro is most valuable when not used as baseload, but as regulating power to follow demand and generation fluctuatiosn. The same is true for geothermal. Since the Earth’s is a giant battery (storing energy in the form of heat), we would be wise to use it as such and not as baseload.

      • Omega Centauri

        I agree with arne here. Dispatchable or partially dispatchable renewables are worth more than steady baseline renewables, are worth more than renewables that depend upon current but changing conditions. Obviously adding dispatchability to geothermal isn’t going to come for free. It probably involves insulated storage of steam above ground -or maybe simply throttling the well based upon current demand.

        • RobS

          Throttling geothermal is phenomenally easy, simply use the valve on the steam lines, open it to increase power, close it to decrease, faster throttling than any gas turbine, matched in speed only by hydro and battery storage.

          • Omega Centauri

            Technically easy, but an operator wants to maximize revenue and return on capital. So they have to build a well and steam plant with 100 units of capability but much of the time they are only using a fraction of the rated capacity. Meanwhile they owe interest of the loan, and as they say in the oil industry “rust never sleeps”. If you are going to generate the same average amount of power it is going to cost more, because you have to overbuild the system components to handle the peak load. This is the main reason Nukes are run 24/7 at full power, to amortize as much of the capital as possible.

          • RobS

            You just pointed out in your previous post how much more valuable Dispatchable power is than base load per KWh

        • GraceAdams830

          Each 5MW hot rock reservoir must have an on/off valve so it can be shut-off when it is time to re-drill its two wells (injection and production) after about 6 years to open up a new hot rock reservoir another kilometer down.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’d question the six year number. Obviously we don’t have real world enhanced geothermal wells to use, but the numbers I’ve seen are 20 to 50 years before a well cools down and needs to rest and recover.

            The cutoff valve, yes. All geothermal has to have a cutoff valve in order to allow maintenance and repairs.

          • GraceAdams830

            I managed to download a report by MIT “The Future of Enhanced Geothermal Systems” that someone on their Chemical Engineering faculty was lead author of to the G W Bush administration C. 2007 that claimed that the turbine etc on top was fussy enough about wanting to operate with superheated steam at a constant temperature to need drilling down another kilometer to another hot rock reservoir about every 6 years when the rocks cooled to about 20C below what they were when the reservoir was first opened. The 50 to 300 years was how long it would take the rocks to manage to reheat themselves if left alone.

          • Bob_Wallace

            That’s possible but I don’t get his/her thinking. The heat drop is going to be over years, not minutes or hours. The plant won’t undergo thermal stress with a 20% loss spread over 6 years.

            If a 20% loss is enough to cause the plant to operate poorly overall, to make it non-profitable or its electricity very expensive, then yes, more heat would need to be found.

            What I’ve read is that geothermal wells are likely to reheat as fast (or slow) as they depleted. We probably need to find some expert sources to iron this out.

            I suspect there’s a lot of guessing going on at the moment since we have only one or two enhanced plants operating. And the technology is still developing. Recently one company figured out how to fracture the rock at various depths in order to greatly expand the heating field for a single well.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Look at this range of well life assumptions…

            “However, the likely reasons for the differences in material requirements are twofold: (1) Rule et al. (2009) assume a lifetime of 100 years as compared to our 30-year assumption, and (2) Rule et al. (2009) assume a well lifetime of 17 years, which results in considerably higher amounts of steel and cement required for drilling an additional 4 to 5 sets of new wells within their overall 100-year lifetime.”


            And Wiki says –

            “EGS wells are expected to have a useful life of 20 to 30 years before the outflow temperature drops about 10 c (18 f) and the well becomes uneconomic.”

          • GraceAdams830

            Last I heard about geothermal was that 2007 report, which is now seven years old. I don’t doubt that technology has improved since then. Maybe progress has included an increase in the range of tolerable operating temperatures within a single hot rock reservoir over the service life of the reservoir, thus increasing the length of that service life. I just don’t know. I was enamored with enhanced geothermal systems. Now I am pinning most of my hopes on the carbon-negative algal bio-fuels Algae Systems is developing for US Navy that must be a good seven years into the future before they get close enough to cost-competitive with petroleum to be worth subsidizing as a way to capture carbon and store it in the bio-char by-product of those algal bio-fuels.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’m guessing that wind and solar will get so cheap that geothermal will not play a major role on the grid.

            I can see a big use in places closer to the poles where the Sun doesn’t shine in the winter and the waste heat can be very useful.

            I’m hoping that some sort of biofuel can replace the petroleum we use for planes and trans-ocean shipping. Most of everything else is better done with electricity. I think at this point we know that we can do the job with plant based biofuel for an acceptable price and without interfering with food sourcing. Algae/duckweed/whatever could hopefully bring the price down.

          • GraceAdams830

            Wind and solar need a national smart grid to go with them including energy storage. I am in favor of a national smart grid including energy storage. Maybe Canada does need geothermal more than USA does. I am still pinning big hopes on what Algae Systems is doing for US Navy. Algae Systems has a website. I am just not good at getting links embedded so they work. You might like them if you do Google them and take a good look at them.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Open the page.

            Copy the page address (https://, etc.) in your browser address window.
            Paste in your comment.

            I’m interested in algae (and other approaches) but I prefer to work with what we have in hand right now. See if we can solve our problems with that. If something better comes along we can switch over.

          • GraceAdams830

            http://algaesystems I hope this works. The things that look like water lily pads are I suspect the growing bags Algae Systems grows algae in. I am afraid the link does not work. It lit up blue until I clicked on the Save button–then turned black like the rest of the text.

          • Bob_Wallace

            It didn’t quite. But I did get directed to the page.

            You left off the .com/ part.


            ​Read up on duckweed. The little bit I’ve read makes it sound more likely than algae.

          • GraceAdams830

            From what Wikipedia said about it, it sounds not only edible but maybe tastier than most algae. Main advantage I can see for algae is the interest US Navy and Algae Systems have taken in it. Algae Systems has made progress since they were first hired to help our military get diesel to the frontlines cheaper. Now US Navy hopes to get first close enough to cost-competitive with petroleum for overall cost-benefit analysis to justify subsidizing our too big to fail fossil fuel firms to start mass producing it to slow down global warming. Later it is hoped to get it all the way to cost-competitive so our too big to fail fossil fuel firms will be willing to make it even without the subsidy.

          • GraceAdams830

            The little bit I read in Wikipedia complete with photos seems like duckweed is most likely edible and probably would taste better than common pond scum algae, not that I have tasted either, I haven’t. Algae Systems seems to be more into chemical engineering than into horticulture. I guess whatever would raise the most weight of fixed carbon per acre per year would work for them.
            Thanks for trying to teach me how to copy links–maybe some day I might master this. global thermostat is the firm of the chemical engineer who invented the sodium ion studded filter to capture CO2 that Algae Systems uses to feed CO2 to its algae.

    • William C’est Tout

      We are building houses WRONG, based on way out-of-date engineering. Geothermal and solar should be mandatory for new construction, when it is cheapest to integrate. I think Germany has adopted this vision.

  • JamesWimberley

    The EIA thinks there is a category of generation called “renewables.” The only way they can get such low growth rates for it by lumping the technologies together. Statistically this is nonsense. Solar, wind geothermal, hydro, biomass, tidal and wave are quite distinct technologies, each with its own constraints, opportunities and learning curve. Any serious projection over a timescale of decades has to separate slow-growng, mature hydro from fast-growing wind and even faster-growing solar.

    The EIA’s renewables desk is becoming a joke. They are out of line, not by a few points but fundamentally, with everybody else – even the very conservative IEA. Secretary Moniz: a shakeup please, and soon.

  • Paul Turner

    Perhaps it´s time to re examine hydro. Hydro and pumped hydro are the fastest ramp rate generation sources (with correct design) but in the USA appear to be considered base load providers. Why not change the paradigm into a scenario where a couple of changes are made. Firstly build massive amounts of wind and solar power adjacent to the power plants. As these RE resources ramp in response to weather let the hydro ramp to smooth the output. Secondly as most hydro installations have transmission lines built for maximum output but actually run most of the time at perhaps 40% of that capacity, adding more RE would raise the average output of the installation. Reducing water supplies would be helped by this, especially if floating solar panels are used which would drastically reduce the high evaporation losses associated with many reservoirs. Such changes would conflict with some existing restrictions on many dams (Minimum flow, irrigation, etc) but these things are going to be affected by reducing water flow anyway.

    • JamesWimberley

      I saw a report of a Chinese solar farm next to a dam. The solar rafts are a nice idea; maybe you could combine these with shellfish farming. Mussels, oysters and scallops are grown under rafts in the rias (fjords) of Galicia.

      • Omega Centauri

        I’m not sure what the issues of floating panels are. Perhaps maintenence is an issue. I saw a photo of one on a small Indian pond. Larger bodies of water may have issues with waves. I would think vertical axis tracking would be simple rotation.
        Also the Indians are experimenting with PV an canal covers, the California water deprtment thinks putting the panels on land is better (I presume its cheaper).

        • What maintenance to solar panels need? With today’s low prices, mounting them on trackers is hardly worth the extra money. What issues do you get when you deprive the water below the panels of its energy (sunshine)?

          • Bob_Wallace

            It would be interesting to see a cost comparison between tracking and mounting panels in an east/west configuration.

            Panel cleaning robots have now been developed. That’s going to take the already low O&M cost for solar even lower.

          • Omega Centauri

            I’m wondering if the water could damage the panels or the electrical equipment. Maybe its not an issue, but it needs to be part of the equation.

            But heck it is easy to rotate something floating, so single axis tracking should be cheap and easy for floating arrays.

          • GraceAdams830

            A nice thick (about 3 ft) slab of closed cell foam (urethane?, polystyrene?) should do a fairly good job of keeping solar panels and their electric connections up out of the water. Solar power systems are built to take being out in the rain.

          • Chief Tightwad

            Reservoirs lose huge amounts of water to evaporation, a major issue in hot dry places like the desert southwest of the US, currently under severe drought conditions.

            I recently listened to a radio show, maybe it was DW’s Living Planet or NPR’s Living on Earth (no time to find link for you), in which the interviewee laid out some detail on the amounts.

            So I’d think there would be a large benefit in lessening evaporation losses if you shaded the reservoirs.

          • GraceAdams830

            An alternative to an artificial lake behind a dam might be several large municipal water tanks on stilts over several equally large cisterns just slightly below ground.

    • William C’est Tout

      Hydro has distribution loss that rooftop solar and local storage does not.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Yes, but it’s small.

        Most grid loss is at the distribution level and as we smarten up the grid we’ll eliminate a lot of loss.

  • RobS

    I produced some charts a few months ago comparing the actual net summer capacity for wind, solar and total renewables plotted against the forecast for each from the EIA AEO 5 years earlier. They really speak for themselves on the Issue of the EIA ability to make prediction about renewable energy capacity with recent cost and technological factors taken into account.

    • Bob_Wallace

      The EIA prediction division is about as useful as teats on a bull.

      • Matt

        And as painful if believed. Ever seen a new calf make that mistake? They learn fast that they don’t fly.

    • Matt

      Ok on PV I was going to “defend” their past 5 year perdictions by saying they missed the knee of the growth curve. But then I look at the wind curve, and their 5 year out guess is less then the amount already install at the time of the guess. They were guessing turbines would be removed!

      • The ‘knee’ of the growth curve is a totally expected artifact produced by exponential growth. Play around with Excel and start plotting an exponential curve. The growth rate doesn’t matter, the knee will always emerge.

        So there is nothing inherently special about the growth in PV, totally normal and in line what experts in the field were predicting: exponential growth. Experts ignored by ivory tower EIA.

    • eveee

      Thanks for showing the graphs. All the verbiage in the world cannot explain why the EIA decided,

      -PV Solar installations stop in 2016 and do not resume for 12 years and even then at a rate significantly below current rates.

      – Construction of wind farms ceases in 2016 and does not resume for almost 20 years.

      Given that years of projections have had estimates adjusted up every year, and trends are going up faster than projections every year, clearly something is wrong at EIA.

      The reply is classic bureaucratic BS. You don’t make bogus projections every year, many years in a row by accident.

      • Bob_Wallace

        What I find particularly disturbing is that when someone points out the problem a person quite high in the chain simply waves it away.

  • The thing I’ve been told is that the EIA forecast isn’t like a weather forecast but is a baseline forecasting tool that can be used by other forecasters. To keep it baseline, the assumption is that no incentives with an expiration date will be renewed and doesn’t take into acct projected technological advances.

    Unfortunately, that point is not widely understood at all and the way the AEO is presented doesn’t particularly make it clear.

    Regarding that, here’s the 1st line of the AEO summary: “Projections in the Annual Energy Outlook 2014 (AEO2014) Reference case focus on the factors that shape U.S. energy markets through 2040, under the assumption that current laws and regulations remain generally unchanged throughout the projection period.” Unchanged, not so obviously, means that laws with an expiration date (i.e., renewable energy incentives but not fossil fuel incentives) will not be renewed.

    • RobS

      They should really either change the scope of their reports or provide a large font disclaimer that they don’t expect their predictions to bear any semblance to reality, because when their thirty year forecasts are regularly being reached inside of 5 years they really just look like buffoons at what they are doing.

  • Banned by Bob

    Like most government bodies, they lag behind what is actual happening on the ground. It’s how the phrase “good enough for government work” stays relevant.

  • Bob_Wallace

    If this topic interests you I would highly recommend giving this article a read.

    And if anyone is interested I can post the EIA reply.

  • Will E

    now Solar and Wind Power has become the cheapest Power
    there is no limit. endless supply billions dollars to be made with Wind and Solar Power.

  • Michael Berndtson

    Outstanding! I’ve been freaking out about this for awhile. I enjoy getting all obsessed with EIA data. Petroleum and coal information is almost to the second. It’s as if meter and hopper data is transmitted real time to the website. Wind and solar data seems to be entered by hand every once in a while, when the receptionist isn’t taking calls or playing solitaire.

  • Omega Centauri

    The question of wat this continues to happen is an important one. Does the institution have accounting rules that don’t allow extrapolation of growing sectors, that are in some way considered as speculative? Or is it a question of their doing the bidding of fossil fuel interests, because they either supply a good chunck of the operating budget, or present future employment opportunities to staff? We have similar issues with the IEA.

    • Shiggity

      Considering all other data disproves what they say and their previous estimates were grossly wrong, it’s a pretty safe bet that the oil and gas lobby writes their reports for them.

      It’s mind boggling that these are the people setting US standards.

      • agelbert


    • I also posted this below:

      The thing I’ve been told is that the EIA forecast isn’t like a weather forecast but is a baseline forecasting tool that can be used by other forecasters. To keep it baseline, the assumption is that no incentives with an expiration date will be renewed and doesn’t take into acct projected technological advances.

      Unfortunately, that point is not widely understood at all and the way the AEO is presented doesn’t particularly make it clear.

      Regarding that, here’s the 1st line of the AEO summary: “Projections in the Annual Energy Outlook 2014 (AEO2014) Reference case focus on the factors that shape U.S. energy markets through 2040, under the assumption that current laws and regulations remain generally unchanged throughout the projection period.” Unchanged, not so obviously, means that laws with an expiration date (i.e., renewable energy incentives but not fossil fuel incentives) will not be renewed.

      • tibi stibi

        what is the use of making projections of the future if you keep all variables constant?

        then its better to clearly state what the current situation is en leave the future to others

        • JamesWimberley

          Excellent point. A projection based on the assumption of no future technical progress is strictly worthless.

        • Michael Finger

          So this is what the future will look like if it looks like today. Fascinating.

      • Omega Centauri

        Rules that are clearly designed to project the continuance of the status quo. Who gets to set those rules, and also the fact that they are buried in the fine print?

      • derekbolton

        Then ‘baseline’ is not the right term. “Unchanged laws” would be better represented by taking the average of incentives of the last so many years. Yes, incentives for new technologies are likely to reduce, but mostly in response to those technologies becoming cheaper.
        The simplest fix for the EIA would be to produce a number of curves based on a range of reasonable assumptions, like the IPCC does.

Back to Top ↑