Tag Archives: renewable energy

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.

Public Hearing for Performance-Based Ratemaking

Tell the House Committee that Utilities Should be Rewarded (or Penalized) Based on their Carbon Emissions
March, 25th, 1:30 pm
Colorado State Capitol, Room 0112
200 E. Colfax Ave, Denver

The Colorado House Transportation and Energy Committee will decide whether to move forward with HB 15-1250, which seeks to initiate an investigation into performance-based ratemaking. Tell the legislature that performance-based ratemaking should reward the utilities for reducing their carbon emissions.

Currently, most utilities’ profits are determined by how much capital they deploy, plus their allowed rate of return on that capital. In other words, the more they spend on their infrastructure, the more they are able to make. The idea behind performance-based ratemaking is to regulate the utilities’ profits according to how well they meet goals that we set for them. The goals or metrics can range from increasing reliability of the grid to reducing costs to increasing energy efficiency to reducing carbon emissions.

Once the metrics are determined, the utility either gets rewarded or penalized based on how well they adhere to the goals, as opposed to how much capital they deploy. The tricky part is making sure the goals explicitly include things that are important to us, like reducing their carbon emissions.

Colorado State Representative Max Tyler has introduced a bill that would require the PUC to investigate performance-based ratemaking based on a variety of metrics, including reducing carbon emissions.  We are happy to see that reducing carbon emissions is included in the list of metrics. It is crucial that minimizing carbon emissions remains a top priority.

If this bill passes, it will be the beginning of a process that can integrate metrics beyond short-term costs into the ratemaking process, including climate.

Tell the committee that regardless of whether or not they go forward with this bill, we need to integrate climate and public heath impacts into our electricity planning.

If you can’t make it to the hearing, please email the committee members:

max@maxtyler.us, diane.mitschbush.house@state.co.us, perrybuck49@gmail.com, jon.becker.house@state.co.us, terri.carver.house@state.co.us, don.coram.house@state.co.us, daneya.esgar.house@state.co.us, reptracy29@gmail.com, jovan.melton.house@state.co.us, dominick.moreno.house@state.co.us, patrick.neville.house@state.co.us, dan.nordberg.house@state.co.us, faith.winter.house@state.co.us

Want to learn more about performance-based ratemaking?

Big Energy Seminar

Mark Z. Jacobson, Director of the Atmosphere Energy Program , Stanford University

February 20th, 2014, 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Bechtel Collaboratory, Discovery Learning Center
Engineering Dr, Boulder, CO 80302

50 State plans for powering the U.S. with wind, water, and solar power for all purposes

Global warming, air pollution, and energy insecurity are three of the most significant problems facing the world today. This talk discusses the development of technical and economic plans to convert the energy infrastructure of each of the 50 United States to those powered by 100% wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) for all purposes, including electricity, transportation, industry, and heating/cooling, after energy efficiency measures are accounted for. The plans call for ~80% conversion by 2030 and 100% by 2050 through aggressive policy measures and natural transition. Wind and solar resources, footprint and spacing areas required, jobs created, costs, air pollution mortality and climate cost reductions, methods of ensuring reliability of the grid, and impacts of offshore wind farms on hurricane dissipation are discussed. More information can be found here.

Presenter Bio

Mark Z. JacobsonMark Z. Jacobson is Director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University. He is also a Senior Fellow of the Woods Institute for the Environment and Senior Fellow of the Precourt Institute for Energy. He received a B.S. in Civil Engineering with distinction, an A.B. in Economics with distinction, and an M.S. in Environmental Engineering from Stanford University, in 1988. He received an M.S. in Atmospheric Sciences in 1991 and a PhD in Atmospheric Sciences in 1994 from UCLA. He has been on the faculty at Stanford since 1994. His work relates to the development and application of numerical models to understand better the effects of energy systems and vehicles on climate and air pollution and the analysis of renewable energy resources. He has published two textbooks of two editions each and 135 peer-reviewed scientific journal articles. He received the 2005 American Meteorological Society Henry G. Houghton Award for “significant contributions to modeling aerosol chemistry and to understanding the role of soot and other carbon particles on climate,” the 2013 American Geophysical Union Ascent Award for “his dominating role in the development of models to identify the role of black carbon in climate change,” and the Global Green Policy Design Award for the “design of analysis and policy framework to envision a future powered by renewable energy.” He co-authored a 2009 cover article in Scientific American with Dr. Mark DeLucchi of U.C. Davis on how to power the world with renewable energy, served on the Energy Efficiency and Renewables Advisory Committee to the U.S. Secretary of Energy, and recently appeared on the David Letterman Show to discuss converting the world to clean energy.

What Value Should We Place on Our Future?

Courtesy of the Old Marlovian
Courtesy of the Old Marlovian

By: Alexandra Czastkiewicz

October 2013

The social cost of carbon might not be a conversation that comes up at the dinner table, but realize it or not the implications of global climate change are far reaching and daunting. How important is the fate of the future generation? When your children grow up, what kind of world do you want them to experience? Putting a numeric value on the future is difficult, but it must be done if we are to change the direction of our energy future, and introduce cleaner energy technologies that produce less harmful pollution and emissions.

Coal is perceived as a more economic energy source then many renewable technologies. The Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences recently published an article about the implications of modernizing our electricity systems. The US government needs an official cost estimate associated with the production of CO2 from fossil fuels. According to report, without counting pollution and carbon emissions, coal, on average, costs 3.0 cents/kWh versus wind energy (8.0 cents/kWh) or photovoltaics (13.3 cents/kWh) (Johnson et al. 2013). The government is now trying to take into account the environmental costs of using fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas. This includes adding a cost of potential damages caused by the emission of CO2 into the atmosphere. These potential and already realized costs include damages and deaths incurred from drought, floods, heat waves, hurricanes and other natural phenomenon that have been exacerbated given human induced climate change. Additionally, the social cost of carbon has serious public safety and health implications. Increased pollution has led to increases in asthma, water contamination, and rises in climate sensitive diseases. Every day our health and wellbeing are being compromised and if we do not change our current energy practices, and it will only continue to worsen for our futures. Continue reading What Value Should We Place on Our Future?