Tag Archives: electricity

U.S. Energy Information Administration Projections Far from Accurate

EIA projections missed unprecedented growth in solar PV installations and a sharp downturn in coal production over the last decade.

For a more detailed analysis of inaccuracy in the EIA’s projections, see CEA’s white paper on the topic here.

Policymakers, utility commissions, investors, and energy companies rely on the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA’s) data for a wide range of energy analyses and while the historical data provided by the EIA has been extremely useful in many arenas, the EIA’s projections of future trends are often far from accurate. Our research summarizes a few examples of previously reported inaccuracies in EIA projections (for example, here, here, and here), but also provides what we believe to be the first look at the EIA’s inaccurate projections of U.S. coal production in almost a decade.

The projections published in the EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) have invariably overestimated the cost of renewable electricity generation and fallen sadly short of predicting new additions of wind and solar capacity. For example, Figure 1 shows that the projections published in the EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook repeatedly underestimated U.S. utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity from 2011 to 2015 and continue to predict that solar installations will largely stall through about 2025.

In reality, however, solar PV capacity is growing at an unprecedented rate. The Solar Energy Industries Association reported that by the third quarter of 2016, the cumulative U.S. utility-scale solar PV capacity (including capacity which was under contract but not yet operating) exceeded the AEO2015 projection for capacity in 2039. Accounting for planned capacity which had been announced but was not yet under contract by Q3 2016 indicates that utility-scale solar PV capacity will soon far surpass all AEO projections for 2040.

Solar PV Capacity and Projections
EIA reference case projections of U.S. utility-scale solar PV capacity and historical data (black, bold) as well as points which include planned capacity under contract in Q3 of 2016 and announced but pre-contract installations as of Q3 2016. Projection data taken from the EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook, historical data taken from Solar Energy Industries Association’s U.S. Solar Market Insight Reports.

In addition to missing the sharp rise in solar photovoltaic installations, EIA projections also missed a dramatic downturn in coal production over the last decade. They failed to pick up on the trend year after year and still predict flat or rising coal production through 2040, as shown in Figure 2.

History (black, bold) and annual EIA projections of U.S. coal production from 1997 to 2040. Note that the vertical axis starts at 950 million short tons for clarity. Data taken from: the EIA's Annual Energy Outlook.
History (black, bold) and annual EIA projections of U.S. coal production from 2006-2015. Note that the vertical axis starts at 950 million short tons for clarity. Data taken from: the EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook.

Disruptive innovations tend to precipitate new market trends that are notoriously difficult to predict. Just as the invention of the personal computer led to an abrupt decline in the typewriter industry in the late 1900’s, a massive transition toward renewable resources is transforming U.S. energy markets and so far EIA projections have failed to keep up with this transition. Every year, EIA forecasts predict a return to the trends of the 90’s, but the technological and political landscapes surrounding the U.S. energy industry are changing rapidly and historical precedent suggests that energy markets may never return to those of past decades.

For more details, readers are encouraged to download the full CEA White Paper here.

Update on Boulder’s Energy Future

Update on Boulder’s Energy Future

6 pm to 7:45 pm
Monday, July 27th, 2015
Boulder Main Public Library

Boulder Creek Room – Main Floor

Staff from the City of Boulder Will Provide Updates on:

Municipalization
Boulder’s Climate Commitments
Solar Mapping
Possible Creation of Trial Nanogrids

Join the Event on Facebook

Stay Tuned for More Details.

2015 Community Energy Fair

CEA 2015 Community Energy Fair

10am to 4pm
Saturday, June 20th, 2015
Scott Carpenter Park
SW corner of 30th and Arapahoe
Boulder, CO (map)
Share and RSVP on Facebook.
Sign Up to Become a Sponsor!

Fun & Games, Speakers, Exhibits,
Something for the Whole Family!

CEA Energy Fair Flyer

Join our community in celebrating clean energy and the Summer Solstice at CEA’s first Community Energy Fair!

For the Grownups:

  • Nationally-Known speakers: Hunter Lovins, Natural Capitalism Solutions; Chuck Kutscher, National Renewable Energy Labs; Ken Regelson, EnergyShouldBe.org; and Leslie Glustrom, CleanEnergyAction.org.
  • Exhibitors: highlighting local clean energy and energy efficiency oriented companies and organizations.
  • Picnic Table Talks: Informal discussions with an array of different advocates and experts in energy policy and technology.  Have a burning question?  Get it answered!
  • Alternative Vehicle Demonstrations: Take an electric car for a spin or try out a family cargo bike.  We may even have a fuel-cell based vehicle from NREL.
  • Silent Auction: fundraiser for CEA, with lots of great schwag donated by local businesses!

For the Kiddos:

  • Ride the CEA energy bike, and see just how much work it takes to power a light bulb!
  • A “Capture the Coal Plant” family field game.
  • Carnival games and art activity booths.
  • Connect with other youth working on climate change.

For more information or to volunteer at the Community Energy Fair, email our organizing team at energyfair@cleanenergyaction.org.  If you would like to become a sponsor or exhibitor at the fair, please fill out this form online, and select your desired sponsorship level.

Note that all sponsors of CEA’s 2015 Community Energy Fair must be committed to maximizing energy conservation & efficiency, and achieving a renewable energy-dominated electricity system in Colorado no later than 2030.

A special thanks to our sponsors, Boulder Weekly and Boulderganic!

Boulder Weekly

Boulderganic

Facing the Risk in Fossil Fueled Electricity

I recently wrote about how our risk tolerance/aversion powerfully affects our estimation of the social cost of carbon, but obviously that’s not the only place that risk shows up in our energy systems.  Fossil fuel based electricity is also exposed to a much more prosaic kind of risk: the possibility that fuel prices will increase over time.

Building a new coal or gas plant is a wager that fuel will continue to be available at a reasonable price over the lifetime of the plant, a lifetime measured in decades.  Unfortunately, nobody has a particularly good record with long term energy system predictions so this is a fairly risky bet, unless you can get somebody to sign a long term fuel contract with a known price.  That doesn’t really get rid of the risk, it just shifts it onto your fuel supplier.  They take on the risk that they won’t make as much money as they could have, if they’d been able to sell the fuel at (higher) market rates.  If the consumer is worried about rising prices, and the producer is worried about falling prices, then sometimes this can be a mutually beneficial arrangement.  This is called “hedging”.

Continue reading Facing the Risk in Fossil Fueled Electricity

Enhanced Geothermal Systems promise dispatchable zero carbon power

Icelandic Geothermal Power Plant by Scott Ableman at Flickr

Geothermal energy is the Earth’s own internal heat. It’s a huge potential resource, but so far it’s seen only very limited use. Traditional geothermal power can only work where there are naturally existing hydrothermal systems that bring the heat of the interior to the surface. A new technique called enhanced (or engineered) geothermal systems (EGS) may make geothermal power much more widely available. If it can be scaled up commercially, EGS will enable us to create hydrothermal systems anywhere there’s hot rock not too deeply buried — which includes a large swath of Colorado. This is potentially significant in the context of creating a zero-carbon electrical system because like hydroelectricity, and unlike wind and solar, geothermal power can be dispatchable: you can turn it on and off at will. This makes it a great complement to intermittent renewable power, as it can be used to fill in the gaps then the wind’s not blowing or the sun’s not shining.  It remains to be seen whether it’s technically feasible, and if so at what price, and on what timeline, but it’s certainly worth investigating.

Continue reading Enhanced Geothermal Systems promise dispatchable zero carbon power