US Renewables & Emissions Both Increase

By Roy L Hales

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) has just released two reports for the first four months of 2014. US Renewables & emissions both increased. 

Renewables Produce 14%

“Renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) provided over 14% of the nation’s electricity for the first four months of 2014 (i.e., 14.05%) – a level that the EIA has been saying might not be reached until 2040,” writes Ken Bossong of the Sun Day Campaign.

Hydropower continues to be the #1 source of renewable energy.

New Solar Record

One of the biggest stories is a 108% increase in solar production, over 2013. This is largely the result of the increased capacity in California, where 700 MW of rooftop solar and 2,145 MW of utility scale solar installations were made in 2013. As a result, 14% of that state’s power was obtained from solar in May. This is a marked increase over the 6% from the previous year.

At noon on June 1, 2014, California set a new record of 4,767 utility-generated solar megawatts  delivered into the California grid.

Despite these increases, natural gas is still California’s biggest energy source. It produced 59% of net generation in 2013, and another 3,940 MW “came online in 2013, which will help address some of the reserve capacity needs for balancing renewables.”

Wind Energy

The wind sector produced 5.15% of America’s energy during the first four months of 2014. There was a new record set in Texas at 8:48 p.m. on March 26. Wind turbines provided 29% of the state’s electricity. EIA predicts a 7% growth rate for wind power 2014, followed by 14% next year.

Ken Bossing points out there has also been an increase in alternative fuels:

  • 11.74% in fuel ethanol (measured as Mbbl) and
  • 10.85% in biodiesel.

Emissions Also Increase

The growth of fossil fuel usage has prompted a 5.48% increase in CO2 emissions during the first quarter, primarily from the coal and natural gas sectors.

However the EIA predicts that fossil fuel based CO2 emissions for the year will end up being only be 2.2% higher than 2013.

The amount of coal usage grew almost 9%, despite the fact there have been no facilities built. This exceeds the growth of natural gas (7.43%) – which leads the nation in installations – and underlines the fact that America actually consumes more coal than gas, though it possesses much higher capacity in the latter.

US Electricity Production by Source & Month, listed in thousand Megawatthours & taken from EIA stats for Overall & Renewable Energy – Roy L Hales

George Taylor, executive director of Palmetto Energy Research, explained, “The reason is that coal plants are generally baseload or baseload plus some amount of daily load following.  Thus they have capacity factors in the 60 to 80% range.  Some gas generation is also baseload (combined cycle gas plants), but other gas plants (combustion turbines, or “simple cycle”) run at small capacity factors in order to take care of intermediate and peak loads, which are for shorter durations each day.  This lowers the average capacity factor for all gas plants combined.”

“CC and CT should really reported separately.  They only share fuel, not operating characteristics.  CC uses one-third less fuel than CT per kWh of output,” he aded.

“Since the capital cost of gas plants is much lower than the capital cost of coal plants (while the cost of gas fuel is somewhat higher the cost of coal, on a per-kWh basis), this makes economic sense.  Gas plants can also ramp more quickly than coal plants.”

Top photo credit: Santa Clarita Power by Jeff Turner via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

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