EIA projects wind at 5% of U.S. electricity in 2012, all renewables at 14%, thanks to Obama stimulus! Now can we get a stronger renewable standard?

The renewables safe sources of energy that never run out are coming!  And if it was braggin’ time for wind when wind power hit 1.25% of U.S. electricity generation in 2008, what’ll it be in 2012, when it hits 5%, as projected by the Energy Information Administration?  Well, it’s probably time for a tougher renewable energy standard than the Senate is considering.

Significantly, the EIA, which is the DOE’s independent analytical arm, is no fan of safe sources of energy that never run out.  When I was at the DOE in the mid-1990s, we uncovered a key reason there was so little wind in EIA’s modeling of federal climate action:  Their original forecast had in fact shown a huge upsurge, so the EIA analysts tweaked the model to artificially suppress wind.  And today, the EIA is run by my old friend, Howard Gruenspecht, who was a Bush Sr. holdover at DOE’s office of policy when I started there in 1992 and a Bush, Jr. appointee at EIA.  He ain’t progressive.  Obama should replace him.  But I digress.

So it is all the more shocking that EIA’s remarkable, if little noted, report from last month, Updated Annual Energy Outlook 2009 Reference Case Reflecting Provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and Recent Changes in the Economic Outlook projected this response to the Obama stimulus package:

Note that non-hydro renewables are about 9% of supply in 2020.  You can find all the year-by-year projections here (see Table 15, “Renewable Energy Generating Capacity and Generation”).

Now you can pretty much ignore the post-2012 projections by EIA since they have self-inflicted myopia — EIA’s basic forecasts assume “no further energy and climate policy” and “no peak oil.”  For instance, their analysis notes “wind capacity growth is projected to slow significantly after the expiration of the Federal tax credits in 2012.”

Slow significantly?  That’s an understatement.  EIA projects U.S. wind capacity rising from about 25 GW in 2008 to 66 GW in 2014 — but then to only 68 GW in 2030!

Anybody want to bet me that wind capacity will grow 2 GW from 2015 to 2030?  Didn’t think so.  Seriously EIA — how do you expect anyone to take you seriously?

And EIA projects solar thermal power in 2014 will be … wait for it … 790 MW, and in 2030 … wait even longer and longer for it … 860 MW.  Like I said, EIA does not like renewables — even those with power purchase agreements (see “World’s largest solar plant with thermal storage to be built in Arizona “” total of 8500 MW of this core climate solution planned for 2014 in U.S. alone“).

Needless to say, they assume no climate bill and thus no price for carbon dioxide.

And here is their oil price forecast:

And people say I’m an optimist!

For oil to be significantly below $200 a barrel in 2020 would take a miracle “” or rather 6 miracles see “Science/IEA: World oil crunch looming? Not if we can find six Saudi Arabias!” and “IEA says oil will peak in 2020“).  See also “Merrill: Non-OPEC production has likely peaked, oil output could fall by 30 million bpd by 2015“).

So let’s ignore 2013 on.  I’m not sure EIA has ever made an accurate long-term or even medium-term forecast.  The taxpayers could be saved a lot of money if Congress stopped funding EIA to do them.

Now EIA is it certainly much better at short-term forecasts, and this forecast in particular has credibility because it is the energy equivalent of a “declaration against interest,” in this case of finding that cuts against the underlying assumptions of EIA’s modeling.  In other words, it is probably a lowball estimate, even in 2012, and certainly past then.  Here are some of their near-term predictions:

A significant expansion in the use of renewable fuels for electricity generation, particularly in the near-term. The extension of key Federal tax credits and the new loan guarantee program in ARRA both stimulate increased renewable generation relative to the published AEO2009 reference case and the no-stimulus case (Figure 1).

By 2012, wind generation with the ARRA is expected to be more than twice that projected in the no-stimulus case, 201 billion kilowatthours compared to 86 billion kilowatthours and estimated generation of 53 billion kilowatthours in 2008. Although wind capacity growth is projected to slow significantly after the expiration of the Federal tax credits in 2012 (!), by 2030 total installed wind capacity is projected to be 67 percent greater because of the ARRA-stimulated growth than in the no-stimulus case.

Geothermal capacity is also projected to grow significantly more than in the nostimulus case. Installed geothermal capacity in 2013 is 16 percent greater in the updated reference case with ARRA than in the no-stimulus case, 3.0 gigawatts, compared with 2.6 gigawatts.

Projected additions of new biomass capacity are also accelerated by the renewable electricity provisions of the ARRA, and by 2030, projected installed capacity is 18 percent higher compared to the no-stimulus case.

Bottom line:  Safe sources of energy that never run out have come of age and are poised to be a dominant force on the marketplace in the next few years.

And if EIA knew its ass from its elbow, it’d be able to put out a medium term forecast (i.e. 2020) for renewables that wasn’t so laughable.

And if the Senate energy committee were serious about putting out a stretch goal for renewables, they certainly would not be embracing a standard that requires a mere 11% renewables from 2021 through 2039, with another 4% from efficiency.

And yes, Waxman-Markey is hardly much better, requiringly only 15 percent by 2020 (plus 5 percent energy savings from efficiency) — with an escape clause letting governors drop the renewable target to 12 percent for a state by ruling utilities can’t meet the mandate.

C’mon guys and gals.  Let’s get serious about pushing safe sources of energy that never run out.

16 Responses to EIA projects wind at 5% of U.S. electricity in 2012, all renewables at 14%, thanks to Obama stimulus! Now can we get a stronger renewable standard?

  1. A Siegel says:

    If I recall correctly, EIA’s Energy Outlook 2000 predicted total wind capacity of around 6 gigawatts by 2020.

  2. Mark Shapiro says:


    1) “IEA” s/b “EIA” (except in those cases toward the end of the post where you actually do mean the IEA).

    2) I kinda like “clean, safe energy that never runs out.” The words “sources of” don’t add any punch.

  3. Bullwinkle says:

    How about ‘Patriot Energy’ or ‘Homeland Energy’?

    I was chatting with the service manager at my local car repair shop today. I was struck by how strongly he felt about energy from a national security standpoint. Very much in favor of anything that gets us off oil. (Also very excited about the Nissan plugin all electric car coming in 2010.)

  4. Neil Howes says:

    I thought you had mentioned doing an article about hydro-electricity some time ago. We seem to overlook this forgotten renewable energy resource.
    Alaska has the largest undeveloped resources, but all of the US is only using less than 10% of the hydro potential.
    Needless to say the EIA doesn’t project any significant increase in the next 20 years.

  5. Dan says:

    As a student at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, it’s exciting news that one of our professors, a very smart guy and who’s been in Washington before, was nominated to be the new administrator of the EIA:

    Your wish comes true!!

    [JR: Wow! I missed that. Awesome.]

  6. NFJM says:

    * STOP CONTRACTING (to stay in line with EIA forecasts)

    New wind parks in the North Sea are already contracted at 200-400 GWpeak. Some parks are being conracted at the GWpeak now.

    * FACTORIES: Shut down! (to stay in line with EIA forecasts)

    In the last year or two, several new wind turbine factories opened in the US with an output of turbines equivalent to roughly 2GWpeak per year each.
    Similarly, new PV factories have a yearly output close to 1GWpeak.

    So we only have limited solutions to follow IEA forecast: shut them down, or shift them to 10% part time :-)

  7. Brendan says:

    How is it that ARPA will double the total wind energy output in 2012? It is 2009 now, the awards will probably be awarded this summer, and most of the awards are two years long. So, ARPA is supposed to generate game changing technologies in two years (many of which will neither work nor be wind energy related), and then double the baseline wind deployment in a year? How does this make sense at all?

  8. Brendan says:

    I’m sorry, it’s ARRA. So the implication is that it’s the production tax credit plus some loan guarentees that are doubling the output?

    [JR: Pretty much. The state renewable energy standards are also modeled. Amazing what even modest government incentives and regulations can accomplish.]

  9. Robert says:

    This analysis concludes that CSP is the way to go, for both the US and Europe. The deserts of Arizona could power America without any need for wind at all.

    It also concludes that wind could only ever provide about a 1/4 of US’s current electricity consumption.

  10. Tom says:

    Also, they assume Geothermal doesn’t grom from 2013 to 2025. At all. No growth.

    It’s a joke. What a horrible forecast.

  11. Bill Becker says:

    Three points and question:

    1. Does the EIA estimate for wind power include any assumptions about improvements in economies of manufacturing scale? A key objective of federal subsidies is to help give a new technology a leg up in the marketplace. New technologies are expensive because of capital investments in manufacturing and because of low unit numbers. As they gain a foothold and more are manufacturered, they presumably achieve some economies of scale. I assume that if EIA took this into account, they wouldn’t project such a large dropoff in market penetration after federl subsidies expire.

    2. A national renewable energy porftolio standard is an important supplement to subsidies for renewable energy technologies. An RPS creates a stable and sustained market for renewables, encouraging investment in infrastructure and manufacturing capacity.

    3. The record indicates that states that have been timid in establishing RPSs find they underestimated the performance of renewable technologies. That was the case in Texas and Colorado, for example. Both set relatively low renewable energy performance standards for their states, only to see the standards met years before they thought. In response, the Colorado legislature doubled that state’s standard with the support of Excel Energy, which for years fought any standard at all. The record suggests that an RPS should a) be a stretch goal rather than a timid target, and b) should be designed to be adjusted upward — perhaps automatically — should solar and wind advance more quickly than expected.

    4. The EIA should be removed from the Department of Energy and made an independent agency that does not report to a political appointee. For years, it has been used to support a president’s politics rather than inform them.

  12. Jade A. says:

    Yeah buddy. Looks like wind has a promising future. Now we need to work hard on getting the DOE to focus more on solar thermal projects.

  13. Neil Howes says:

    David MacKay’s article is out of date, for example his 60GW wind estimate for US is now only 6 times higher than what has been built, not 15 times, and is 100 times lower than Archer and Jacobson’s estimate for wind energy in US.
    His estimates for wind power density even in the UK are lower than many wind farms, and he seems to be revising this 2W/meter sq value. He also ignores very good resources in Canadian sub-arctic, that are close to existing hydro transmission lines.

    Even the EIA is now predicting about 50GW by 2030.

  14. Robert says:

    Fair critisism. But the David MacKay book tries hard to present the “big picture” in an understandable way. Taking his figure of 250KWh/day/person equates to 10KW per person continuous average energy consumption, or a total of 3000GW. So the current installed base of wind (about 15GW I think) is next to nothing – 0.5%.

    By the way, the author treats all forms of energy as equal, on the grounds that we might be making electricity from oil and gas today, but in the future it could well be the other way round!

    CSP has the potential to provide the full 3000GW using just(!) 600km x 600km of otherwise fairly useless desert. Europe could do the same using the Sahara.

    Bottom line – the politicians need to rig the market in favour of non-carbon forms of energy, then the market needs to be let loose to find what works best. It can’t all be planned.

  15. Neil Howes says:

    While the MacKay book provides a good way of comparing energy content of fuels it’s not showing how much electricity would be required to say replace coal(only 35%conversion efficiency) or oil for transport (15-20% conversion). Thus a motor vehicle may use 40kWh/day of gasoline, but only 10 kWh/day electricity.

    The other flaw is using Elliott 1991 assumption of 1.2W/m^2, and 20% capacity factor which is much lower than most wind farms today, but reasonable for wind farms in 1991. A lot more information is now known about change in wind velocity with height, reflected in the Archer and Jacobson estimate of 5,000 GW for US and I would guess a similar amount for Canada. We need to remember that US and Canada are almost 80 times the area of the UK and have a much lower population density.

    I am not saying solar energy could not provide all energy needs, its just that wind power has now reached a critical contribution and will probably exceed hydro by 2012. Saying that wind power can only provide a small part of future energy needs of US is just wrong even though it may eventuate that solar energy does provide more than wind energy, both have the potential to replace all fossil fuels.

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