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Published on March 10th, 2015 | by Zachary Shahan

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Renewable Energy = 13.4% Of US Electricity Generation In 2014 (Exclusive)

March 10th, 2015 by  


US Electricity Generaton 2014Following up on our latest renewable energy capacity report, below are US electricity generation numbers for December 2014, 2014 as a whole, and 2013.

As stated in the title, renewables contributed 13.4% of all US electricity generation in 2014, when I add in a CleanTechnica estimate for rooftop solar (that is, solar PV projects under 1 megawatt in size… which are primarily rooftop solar power projects). The figure in 2013 was 13%, so the basic news is… we’re inching forward.

It’s not surprising that the share of electricity coming from renewables is growing, as solar and wind accounted for 55% of new electricity generation capacity in 2014, 36% in 2013, and 51% in 2012. However, it may come across as depressingly slow when you compare to those capacity addition percentages noted above. One thing to remember is that we have a huge base of existing power plants pumping out electricity almost every day. No matter what electricity sources we switch to, it is going to take time to replace those and greatly shift our electricity profile. Also, remember that wind and solar have relatively low capacity factors, so the share of electricity generation capacity coming from renewables is almost always going to look bigger than the share of actual electricity coming from renewables.

Some more takeaway points follow the charts (and, by the way, note that you can click between three different charts in the interactive widget below):


 

Other key facts/takeaways from this month’s electricity generation report include:

  • In December, 13.5% of US electricity came from renewables.
  • Solar & wind together accounted for 5.2% of US electricity in 2014.
  • Solar & wind together accounted for 4.8% of US electricity in December 2014.
  • Solar & wind together accounted for 4.3% of US electricity in 2013.
  • Electricity from wind power was up 13,951 GWh in 2014 compared to 2013.
  • Electricity from solar PV power was up 13,723 GWh in 2014 compared to 2013.
  • Electricity from hydropower was down 9,807 GWh in 2014 compared to 2013.
  • Electricity from nuclear power was up 8,051 GWh in 2014 compared to 2013.
  • Electricity from petroleum liquids was up 4,888 GWh in 2014 compared to 2013.
  • Electricity from coal power was up 4,582 GWh in 2014 compared to 2013.
  • Electricity from wood and wood-derived fuels was up 3,022 GWh in 2014 compared to 2013.
  • Electricity from natural gas was down 2,908 GWh in 2014 compared to 2013.

All Sources of Electricity

US Renewable Electricity Generation - Dec 2014

Only Renewables

US Renewable Electricity Generation - Dec 2014 Renewables

I think that’s it from me. But if you drop a comment below, I may find something more to contribute.

Note: The source of most of the data discusses above is the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). I estimate “rooftop solar” electricity generation based largely on historical capacity data and estimates from GTM Research.

Related Stories:

Renewable Energy = 90% Of New US Electricity Generation Capacity In January (Exclusive)

US Solar PV Installations Surpassed 6 GW In 2014 (Charts)


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About the Author

Zach is tryin’ to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he’s also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada.

Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don’t jump to conclusions.



  • eveee

    There has been many studies showing how this could be done. NREL, in particular, did one for the US. There are studies for EU and Australia.
    The goal only needs to be 80% renewables by 2050. This can be achieved with 50% variable renewables like wind and solar, 30% dispatchable renewables like hydro, geothermal, and bio, and 20% conventional.
    The goal is met over a wide area with different regions achieving a little more or less depending on the regions resources.
    This is not just a change in sources, its also a change in ways of operation. Larger areas are linked by transmission and system information is updated more frequently.

    • Raahul Kumar

      I don’t notice the funding to make that possible. It’s usually impossible to get funding from banks to establish any green energy project, whereas you have to turn Banks away if you’re funding coal.

      The build rate is clearly not in line to achieve that goal, so renewables are not on track to make 80% cut by 2050 possible. The only country that has pledged that goal, Switzerland, has nuclear power/hydro power as most of its grid, which is why it can reach that target. Most countries are not in a position to increase hydro power.

      • eveee

        Other people can talk about funding more than me, but the idea is that there are constant streams of money in the energy business. Old power plants must be replaced. Older plants are replaced by wind, solar, and natural gas.

        Banks go where the money is and so do investors. Warren Buffett is a big investor in wind, for example. Utiliies are investing in solar and wind.

        Lately, all new generation is from that list. No new coal or nuclear.

        I don’t know why you say the build rate is not in line to achieve that goal.

        You have to be familiar with exponentials.

        Solar is doubling every two years. Thats about 35% annual growth rate. Wind is doubling every 5 to 7 years.

        If solar is 1% now and doubling every 2 years, in ten years it would be 32%.

        If wind is 5% now and doubling every five years, that means in 20 years it would be 20%.

        Even though that level of growth won’t continue forever, that is a far cry from not being able to achieve that goal.

        Keep in mind, it does not mean 80% solar and wind. According to the NREL study, its 50% solar and wind and 30% dispatchable renewables like biogas, geothermal, hydro, run of river, etc. 20% can be conventional.

        See page xxx and xxxii.

        http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy12osti/52409-1.pdf

        Right now, US renewables are at about 13 to 14%. Non hydro renewables recently exceeded hydro.

  • drevney

    So am I correct saying that for this year solar power is expected to reach the 1% mark?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Possible. The US increased solar capacity by 66% in 2014. With 0.43% of “utility side of the meter” coming from solar that should mean about 0.71%. Get enough of the 2015 capacity on line earlier in the year and it could push to 1%.

      Or it might have happened in 2014 if behind the meter solar is included.

      • drevney

        That should be the headline. An important mark. With continuing last decade exponential trend (not likely though) it will be 50% in 2025.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Two or three years back someone was predicting crossing the 1% threshold in 2015. I really didn’t think it likely. Now I’m not so sure. Stuff is really speeding up.

          If we could get to the point where we were replacing three to four percent of our fossil fuel use to renewables each year we’d be doing great. Annual growth will likely level out. Let’s hope it levels out at a nice high number.

          • Alastair Leith

            With Apple, Google and the like investing in small utility scale solar installations other corporations will be looking at the bottom line and the social responsibility aspects of their own similar projects (even if it’s just PR for some of them) and this will spread quickly I think. There’s a lot of empty roofs in light industrial suburbs beggging for solarPV and hybrid solarPV+thermal and storage.

            That’s one of the things about capitalism, ideas for change can spread rapidly (usually accompanied by environmental degradation but the it’s reverse in this case).

  • Raahul Kumar

    13.4 % is something, but it seems depressingly slow to address climate change. I don’t see how 70% cuts can be achieved by renewables alone, even with an exponential growth rate, given the low base and the limited time to cut carbon emissions.

    • Calamity_Jean

      If the eastern US has a warm snowless winter I expect renewables will have a sudden jump in rate of growth.

  • This data is pretty much exactly what EIA Electricity Data Browser presents. For instance, Zachary’s special numbers come in at 4,111,375 gwh for 2014. EIA data browser for 2014 is at 4,092,935 gwh. The data browser has Jan through Nov 2014 and on the front page of the site published Dec data. That’s a 0.44 percent difference. I wasted about 7 minutes of my life the other day having to respond to some goof here on cleantechnica. He said that EIA is the antichrist or something – and I’m a dark lord for citing it. EIA’s analysis is suspect like any market analysis that makes projection. And it does need coaxing from wind and solar dudes. Its data is pretty good. And the only data we got. Even the renewables are almost nuts on with Zach’s. This is a good thing. We need a central clearinghouse of data – that’s free.

    http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/browser/

    • Mike Shurtleff

      The EIA is the antichrist when it comes to any predictions of Solar PV or Wind energy growth. If you were citing either of those then you might be a dark lord. 😉

    • These numbers are from the EIA except that I’m estimating rooftop solar since EIA excludes it.

      The big issue with the EIA is its projections, not its historical data.

      However, its historical data are also suspect, as Bob has noted in this comment:

      http://cleantechnica.com/2015/03/10/renewable-energy-90-of-new-us-electricity-generation-capacity-in-january-exclusive/#comment-1900092743

      • Bob_Wallace

        I’m not questioning the accuracy of the EIA data. I’m wondering what data they are reporting.

        The EIA, as I understand it, has historically used only data from large scale providers. That means they’ve largely ignored end-user/rooftop solar.

        I think they started counting end-user capacity in 2011.

        http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=8510

        But I don’t think they include end-user generation. They report only what is generated on the utility side, IIRC. I don’t think they pick up what is fed back to the grid from end-users or self-generated and consumed generation.

        The NREL, I think, makes an attempt to measure end-user generation and adds that to “utility” solar generation. I stick on a more recent version of the EIA/NREL graph that includes 2013 NREL data.

        In 2013 the EIA reports 9,253 GWh of solar generation, the NREL reports 21,074. That’s 2.3 more.

        The EIA reports that solar produced 0.23% of all US electricity in 2013. Using the NREL number the number would have been about 0.5%.

        The EIA reports that solar produced 0.45% in 2014. Assuming the NREL number will be proportionally higher as it has run since 2000 it could mean that solar has passed a milestone and is now producing 1% of US electricity.

        • The PV rooftop and systems smaller than say 1 MW need help from anyone with an idea to get its numbers into EIA fast. A problem is data availability and ease of entry. Oil, gas, coal and nuke all get taxed at some point by a region or state. It’s in the taxing entity’s interest to get accurate data fast, due to needing the revenue to pave roads and such. How smaller and distributed system data can get accounted for is beyond my brain power. There’s surely construction capacity data from municipalities. But does this information get beyond say the city who grants a construction permit for a PV rooftop system? And more importantly, how can we get small system operating (generating) data? This is where renewable groups and folks like Google can surely be of assistance. Then have them build a fiber broadband line directly to EIA’s office and make that data available for goofs like me. And if necessary walk over to EIA’s office, stand over the shoulder of the IT dude who’s responsible for renewables data entry.

          For example, I need to be able to tell folks that renewables are more than 0.00000001% of generations and show them an agreed upon data set, i.e. EIA, that renewables are really at 13.4% of total generation. These aren’t dumb folks – just folks who have an interest in turtling renewables.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I agree, using 13.4% renewables is an easily supported talking point. The other half percent or so that may not be counted is not that important in that case.

            I’d probably say “The EIA finds 13.4% from renewables but the number may be closer to 14% if one adds in rooftop solar”.

        • eveee

          If you look at CAISO during days of low sun vs. full sun, you can get a sense of the rooftop solar impact.
          They show two curves, one for total demand, and another showing demand minus variable generation. (they call net)
          On full sun days this spring you see a weekday flat daytime demand until sundown peaks.
          On cloudy days, you see demand curve upward during the day.
          That hump is the loss of distributed rooftop solar. Looks like at least 1GW. Not scientific, but useful.
          Wednesday was a low solar day.
          California utility solar must be large. If you look at CAISO, you see 5.8GW during the day. Since its not yet summer, that number should rise above 6GW.

    • here’s a graph showing the difference between EIA & NREL:

  • Michael G

    The Wind energy for 2013 on the bar chart seems wrong. It shows 13,967 for 2013 on the bar chart but 165,840 in the table below it. Same problem with PV (Utility): 804 in 2013 bar chart but 8121 in table. I didn’t check the other data.

    • Sorry. Yes, I caught that in the table before publishing, but then neglected to update the chart. Just updated it.

  • No way

    Soooo sloooow. Thankfully there is a lot of nuclear making the total percentage of clean electricity a lot higher.
    It seems to be some kind of bare minimum renewable capacity added at the moment, fortunately it’s at least little or no new coal or gas capacity added too. I’m waiting for some kind of boom. You would at least think that the US would like to not be far behind China in renewable electricity.

    • Bob_Wallace

      It won’t be a boom, but a building stampede.

      It’s underway. Look at the annual growth in US solar in the far right column.

      The US added another 6.4 GW in 2014.

      • Philip W

        That’s some sexy exponential growth. I love exponential 🙂

      • Matt

        Yea, got to build the capacity (ability) to add capacity. Looks like US is still doubling every 18 months. A useful third curve on the chart would be the precent of previous cumulative capacity is install in each year. 9(30%), 10(37%), 11(46%), 12(54%), 13(58%). Both 2012 and 2013 added more that 50% of what had been added before that year. True I left out capacity added before 2000, but even if I assume that was 600MW it only bumps last two years down by 2%. Exponential growth baby!!!!!

      • No way

        A lot more needs to be done. Solar has a healthy growth and will hopefully be at 10+ GW installed for 2015 but is still stands for a very small percentage and has it natural limitations. What I’m really missing are the 20+ GW of wind and 10+ GW of nuclear that could and should have been installed too.
        The more than 850 GW of fossil capacity is not easily replaceable. it will need loads of GW’s installed. A more efficient use of electricity will hopefully help quite a bit but it’s still a giant mountain to climb. Even more so if nuclear is not added or at least replaced to keep it at the same levels.
        Something really needs to start happening if the US should be able to not burn massive amounts of fossil fuels even as far as 20, 30 or even 40 years away.

        • Bob_Wallace

          The US has 14 GW of utility scale solar in the pipeline.

          Wind will show another big bump up. It’s a damn shame Congress has screwed with wind’s subsidies, they’ve never done anything like that with oil, coal and nuclear.

          Nuclear is a waste of money.

          The installed price of wind was $1.63/watt in 2013. Since then prices have almost certainly dropped and CFs have gone up meaning more production per dollar.

          The installed price of utility solar is now dropping below $1.50/watt.
          The installed price of the Vogtle reactors was going to be $6.94/watt prior to the recently announced 18 month delay. That delay will likely bump the price up 10% or so.

          By the time a new reactor could come on line the price of wind will likely be below $1.50/watt with ~50% CF. Solar should be down to $1/watt with 20% CF. That’s $3/watt for wind, $5/watt for solar and $8.48/watt for nuclear – installed and adjusted for CF.

          BTW, those are non-subsidized costs for wind and solar. The price for nuclear is subsidized.

          • No way

            It’s more about the effect needed to be installed. And for both wind and nuclear I meant that it should have been built and ready to open now, so for both some time travelling would be needed. Dropping new installations of nuclear then US installations of wind+solar should rather be at 50 GW per year to compensate.

            It’s the slow pace that bothers me. And it’s not like the real problem is any lack of money.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Seems to me it’s kind of a “what have you done for me today” thing. Wind and solar have become competitively priced only very recently. “Last night”, in essence.

            It will take a little while for capital and efforts to move away from traditional energy sources. It’s happening, coal isn’t being built in the US any longer. NG builds are slowing. Wind and solar are taking off.

            I expect that five years from now we will see massive amounts of wind and solar being installed in the US and the rest of the world.

  • Will E

    existing power plants pumping out electricity almost every day.
    the market will change this very rapidly, when the power plants pump it out and lose money on doing so every day.
    investors dont like that.

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