Renewable energy is rapidly approaching the point at which it will outperform other sources of electricity generation in the nation’s overall energy mix.
According to recent figures released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), renewables and natural gas are on a path to compete for the top spot.
Released in January, the EIA’s “Energy Outlook 2019” provides modeled projections of domestic energy markets through the year 2050. It includes cases with different assumptions and historical trends.
According to the Outlook, renewable generation in the United States has increased from slightly less than 500 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2010 to almost 750 million kWh in 2018. Most renewable generation comes from hydropower, which accounted for 39 percent of the total in 2018, followed by wind at 37 percent and solar at 13 percent.
However, the EIA projects solar and wind, at 48 percent and 25 percent, respectively, to make up the bulk of renewable generation in the year 2050. Hydropower will only contribute 18 percent of the total.
The EIA also projects the total generation from renewables to reach nearly 1.7 trillion kWh in that year, more than double the 700 billion produced in 2018.
Of note, coal has been on a steady decline in recent years, and the EIA projects that trend to continue. In 2010, coal accounted for almost half of the total U.S. electricity generation of nearly 4 trillion kWh. The EIA projects coal’s share of U.S. electricity generation to drop to about 17 percent of the more than 5 trillion kWh generated in 2050.
Despite its tremendous growth, renewable power generation will still have to settle for second place in the competition. According to the EIA, natural gas will continue to be the dominant source of electricity generation in the United States. Currently, it accounts for 34 percent of total generation, and it will rise to 39 percent in 2050. The continuing decline of natural gas prices will drive that trend.