U.S. monthly electricity generation from renewable sources exceeded coal-fired generation for the first time in April, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Renewable sources provided 23% of total electricity generation, compared to 20% from coal. The shift is a result of seasonal factors and long-term increases in renewable generation and decreases in coal generation.
Following are included in EIA’s definition of renewable electricity generation: utility-scale hydropower, wind, solar, geothermal and biomass.
Overall electricity consumption is usually the lowest in the spring and fall because temperatures are more moderate and electricity demand for heating and air conditioning is low. Electricity generation from fuels such as natural gas, coal and nuclear is typically at its lowest point as some generators undergo maintenance.
This spring, wind generation reached record levels and solar generation rose to near-record levels, contributing to a rise in electricity generation. Wind and solar generators have been producing more electricity as a result of increased generating capacity, and in 2018, 15 gigawatts of wind and solar capacity started to operate.
Wind generation rose to a monthly record high of 30.2 million megawatt hours in April. Solar generation, which includes utility-scale solar photovoltaics and utility-scale solar thermal, rose to a record monthly high of 7.8 million megawatt hours in June 2018, and is expected to surpass this level this summer, according to the EIA. Seasonal increases in hydroelectric generation also led to an increase in renewable generation. Conventional hydroelectric generation remains the largest source of renewable electricity in most months and was 25 million megawatt hours in April. Hydroelectric generation usually reaches a peak in the spring as melting snowpack leads to a rise in water supply at downstream generators.
U.S. coal generation has fallen from its peak a decade ago. Since 2015, about 47 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity has been retired in the United States, while no capacity has been added. Another 4.1 gigawatts of coal capacity is expected to be retired in 2019, and this will account for more than half of all planned plant retirements for the year.
Coal is expected to provide more electricity generation than renewables in the United States for the remaining months of 2019. Coal is projected to provide more electricity generation in the United States than renewables in 2019 and 2020, but renewables are expected to surpass nuclear next year.