In December, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released a draft report projecting that the nation would get about 16% of its electricity from renewables by 2040. However, Ken Bossong, executive director of the Sun Day Campaign, says his analysis of the EIA's data shows that the percentage is likely to be hit in 2018 – 22 years before the government's estimate.
According to the EIA, the percentage of net electrical generation represented by renewable energy in the U.S. has grown from less than 9% in 2004 to nearly 13% in 2013. Given the growth trends of at least the past decade, Bossong says, the EIA's forecast seems highly conservative, if not simply wrong.
‘Inasmuch as policymakers in both the public and private sectors – as well as the media and others – rely heavily upon EIA data when making legislative, regulatory, investment and other decisions, underestimation can have multiple adverse impacts on the renewable energy industry and, more broadly, on the nation's environmental and energy future,’ Bossong says. ‘Consequently, the EIA is doing a serious disservice to the public by publishing analyses that are inherently inconsistent with its own historical data and near-term projections.’Â
As a rebuttal, the Sun Day Campaign has produced its own report using the EIA's published data showing that the future of renewable energy growth in the U.S. is on a much faster track.Â
Solar's share of net electrical generation in 2013 was about 0.23% – although this figure does not reflect electricity generated by distributed PV systems not connected to the grid. However, solar grew by 50% from 2010 to 2011. Growth jumped 138% in 2012 and by 114% in 2013.
A continued annual doubling of solar-electric generation for next couple of years appears to be possible, the Sun Day Campaign says. Moreover, this estimate might even be conservative in light of the number of PV and solar thermal projects slated to come online this year and next.
Thereafter, the report says, a more conservative assumption is that solar continues to grow in increments comparable to that now being experienced by wind beginning in 2016.
While the Sun Day Campaign report makes no assumptions about specific renewable energy technologies after 2016, it notes that the percentage of renewable energy capacity in the U.S. has expanded from 8.85% in 2004 to 12.87% in 2013. In other words, the average percentage has widened by roughly 0.4% each year over the past decade.
Given the mix of dropping costs; continued pressure by state renewable portfolio standards; and the political desire to displace coal, other fossil fuels and nuclear power, the Sun Day Campaign says it is reasonable to expect this past decade's pace of growth to at least continue in the near term.