A new report issued today by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts that most new electric generation capacity in the United States through 2040 will come from natural gas and renewable energy. Of the 83 gigawatts (GW) of renewable capacity additions being forecast, nearly half is expected to come from photovoltaic (PV) systems.

The Annual Energy Outlook 2014 (AEO2014) Reference case projects 351 GW of new electric generating additions between 2013 and 2040, in both the electric power sector and end-use sectors. Projected future capacity additions are well below the average annual levels observed in recent history, and natural gas is the primary fuel source of the projected added capacity. Near-term additions (through 2016) average 16 GW per year, followed by additions of less than 9 GW per year through 2022, as the existing generating fleet will be sufficient to meet expected demand growth in most regions. From 2025 to 2040, annual additions increase to an average 14 GW per year, but remain below recent levels.

In the AEO2014 Reference case, natural gas-fired plants account for 73% of capacity additions (255 GW) from 2013 to 2040, compared with 24% for renewables, 3% for nuclear, and 1% for coal. Of the 83 GW of renewable capacity additions, 39 GW are solar photovoltaic (PV) systems (60% of which are rooftop installations) and 28 GW are wind (60% of which occur by 2015 to take advantage of production tax credits), as federal tax incentives, state energy programs, and rising fossil fuel prices increase the competitiveness of renewable electricity technologies. Nuclear additions total about 10 GW, including 6 GW of plants currently under construction and 4 GW projected after 2027. New coal plants total less than 3 GW, with more than 80% of that total currently under construction, as federal and state environmental regulations and uncertainty about future limits on greenhouse gas emissions reduce the attractiveness of coal-fired plants.

Different assumptions for economic growth rates, fuel resources, demand expectations, and tax policies can have a considerable effect on projected capacity additions. Given the uncertainty surrounding these conditions, the AEO2014 examines a variety of cases with different assumptions, including:

  •     The Low and High Economic Growth cases, which project total capacity additions from 2013 through 2040 of 263 GW and 482 GW, respectively
  •     The Low Oil and Gas Resource case, in which natural gas prices are higher than in the Reference case, and new natural gas-fired capacity added from 2013 to 2040 totals 181 GW
  •     The High Oil and Gas Resource case, in which delivered natural gas prices are lower than in the Reference case, resulting in 323 GW of new natural gas-fired capacity additions from 2013 to 2040
  •     The Low Electricity Demand Growth case, in which total electricity demand in 2040 is 17% below the Reference case, and total electricity capacity additions are half (174 GW) that of the Reference case
  •     The No Sunset case, which assumes the extension of existing federal energy policies such as the production and investment tax credits for certain renewable electricity generation technologies, and results in 265 GW of new renewable capacity additions from 2013 to 2040

After reviewing the report, Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Industries Association (SEIA), released the following statement: “Solar is the fastest-growing source of renewable energy today – and, as this report bears out, it will continue to be for years and years to come. The continued, rapid deployment of solar nationwide will create thousands of new American jobs, pump hundreds of billions of dollars into the U.S. economy and help to significantly reduce pollution. Just as importantly, it will also provide Americans with the freedom to decide how to power their homes, businesses, schools and government facilities in the future. This report predicts that 60 percent of all new PV installations in the years ahead will be rooftop solar, creating significant savings when it comes to future energy costs. But this progress could be jeopardized if smart public policies, such as the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), net energy metering (NEM) and renewable portfolio standards (RPS), come under renewed attack by entrenched fossil fuel interests. Of immediate concern, we are strongly urging Congress to adopt “commence construction” language this year, allowing project developers to take full advantage of the highly-successful solar ITC and giving Americans access to new, affordable clean energy sources.”