EIA: “Coal to dominate through to 2040”

Dec 3, 2011

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects coal to remain the primary US generating fuel through 2040 even though natural gas should increase its share and wind power could overtake output from conventional hydropower generation, according to the Annual Energy Outlook released today.The share of coal in electricity generation should reach 42pc in 2020, up from 41pc in 2013, before declining steadily to 37pc in 2040, according to the outlook’s reference case scenario. The numbers exclude combined heat and power and own-use generation.

Gas’ share in primary generation for the grid is projected to decline to 22pc in 2020, from 24pc in 2013, before it rises to 27pc in 2040. Nuclear plants’ share falls to 18pc in 2040 from 21pc in 2013.

Electricity generation from coal-fired plants in absolute terms should increase at 0.3pc/yr in 2015-40. Gas generation likely will expand at 1.1pc/yr while nuclear plants’ output will rise at 0.2pc/yr.

A crucial caveat in the outlook is that it does not take into account the significant projected impacts to coal generation from the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan, which would impose CO2 emission cuts on the US power sector. The proposal is likely to accelerate the retirements in the US coal fleet. The EIA outlooks do not reflect government policies and regulations that have not been enacted. The agency is working on an analysis of the CO2 reduction proposal and will release it later this year, EIA administrator Adam Sieminski said last year.

Coal’s share in installed generation is projected to decline sharply even without the effects of the CO2 reduction proposal. The EIA outlook projects coal-fired capacity in primary generation will fall to 253GW in 2040 from 296GW in 2013. The share of coal in installed generation should drop to 22pc from 30pc in 2013. The numbers reflect summer capacity of coal-fired plants.

The agency dialed back its projections for rising gas share and falling coal share from last year’s projections, after concluding that US electricity demand will be lower than expected while natural gas prices should increase at a faster pace than the EIA projected in its 2014 outlook.

Renewable resources’ share of US electricity generation likely will increase to 18pc in 2040 from 13pc in 2013, based on the outlook’s reference case scenario. The federal energy statistics agency includes conventional hydropower in its definition of renewables. The share of hydropower in total output peaks at 7.2pc in 2020 but falls to 6.5pc in 2040.

Wind’s share in total output rises steadily from 4.4pc in 2013 to 7pc in 2040, when it overtakes conventional hydropower as the primary renewable resource. Solar photovoltaic output directly connected to the grid should account for 1pc of total output in 2040, up from 0.2pc in 2013.