The US Energy Information Administration this week published its official figures for electricity generation in 2017 and it confirms what most expected, that electricity generation from fossil fuels declined in 2017 at the same time that generation from renewables increased.
According to the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) latest Electric Power Monthly, total net electricity generation fell by 1.5% in 2017, reflecting lower electricity demand across the country. Compared to 2016 levels, natural gas generation fell by 7.7% and coal generation fell by 2.5%, while generation from hydro, wind, and solar all increased.
As can be seen, natural gas remains the leading electricity generator for the third year running, but what is important to note is that generation from natural gas fell by 105 billion kilowatt-hours in 2017, which is the largest annual decline on record. Coal’s decrease was less than it has been in other years, but it nevertheless means that this is the first time ever that both natural gas and coal have decreased in the same year.
Coal did nevertheless manage to account for more than half of the retired electric capacity in 2017 with 6.3 gigawatts (GW) out of the 11.2 GW worth of retired electricity generating capacity and, for the first time in at least a decade, there were no new coal-fired generators added during 2017. Natural gas retired around 4 GW worth of capacity, but more capacity was added than was retired, cementing (for the moment) its lead as the country’s leading source of electricity generation.
Most importantly, however, was the increase in electricity generation from renewable sources. Wind and solar both saw record shares of the total net generation (6.3% and 1.3% respectively) and hydroelectricity also increased with 7.5% of total net generation. The EIA expects that hydro will remain above wind in 2018, but that wind will become the leading renewable energy source starting in 2019.
The EIA recorded nearly 6.3 GW worth of new wind capacity added during 2017 and 4.7 GW worth of utility-scale solar PV, with around a third of each coming online in the last month of the year — great for capacity expansion, but it played little part in the overall net electricity generation share; which gives us even more to look forward to this time next year. Another 3.5 GW worth of small-scale solar came online during 2017, increasing that segment to 16.2 GW, surpassing biomass which finished the year at 14.2 GW.
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