Renewables Continue to Surprise, Surpassing Hydro in 2014

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - The year 2014 was another very strong growth year for renewables. Based on data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), generation from non-hydro renewables grew by 10.9% compared to the previous year. To put that in perspective, generation from all sources grew by just 0.7% over the same period.

Generation from conventional sources was essentially flat. Nuclear power grew by 1.0%. Contrary to what one might have expected, coal generation grew by 0.3%, while natural gas generation actually fell by 0.3%.Conventional hydro also declined by 3.7%.

That, aided by a 102.8% increase in solar and an 8.3% increase in wind, allowed renewables to move up to where they contributed 13.2% of all net electrical generation for the year. That’s up from 12.8% in 2013. Biomass and geothermal also grew by 5.7% and 5.4% respectively.

 An important milestone was achieved last year. It was the first year that the non-hydro renewable contribution of 6.9% exceeded the hydro contribution of 6.3%. Power generation by non-hydro renewables has more than tripled over the past decade. EIA numbers do not include all of the distributed and off-grid systems which means that the actual numbers will likely be higher.

Putting it all together, the breakdown of renewable energy’s contribution to the total US electrical generation at the end of 2014 was as follows:

  • hydropower - 6.32%
  • wind - 4.44%
  • biomass - 1.57%
  • solar - 0.45%
  • geothermal - 0.41%.

Looking ahead, EIA is predicting that renewable generation to grow to 14.4% by 2016, with wind’s contribution moving up to 5.2%. It’s worth pointing out that the rapid growth of renewables is surprising even EIA. The level they are now predicting for 2016 is one that just a few years ago they were saying we wouldn’t reach until 2040.

The dark horse here is likely to be solar. While still contributing only a tiny amount of the total, it is growing by leaps and bounds. And it is growing in multiple directions. EIA forecasts that solar’s contribution will climb to 0.7% by 2016; there are reasons to believe it could do better than that.

The utility solar market is projected to grow by 60% by 2016, with about half of that in California where storage mandates will leverage their capacity. Residential solar continues to heat up, enhanced by innovative new business models including crowd-funding that remove the financial barriers that have kept people from adding solar to their rooftops. This includes things like low-interest loans with no money down. At the same time, crowd-funders like Mosaic provide reasonable returns to investors (early programs have seen 4.5%) who would like to do something positive with regard to climate change. Other companies like SunFunder, do the same thing, except they emphasize projects in developing countries where, it could be argued, the need is even greater.

Just this week, Sungage Financial, a financial solutions provider for the residential solar industry, and Solar Roof Dynamics,a value-added solar distribution company, announced a partnership in California that will allow roofing contractors to seamlessly incorporate solar installations into their business. The partnership will provide both financial and technical support to smooth the way.

Renewable energy has been a surprise and having now reached a tipping point, will continue to surprise. This writer, for one, will be surprised if it doesn’t.

Image credit: Anthony Blyth: Flickr Creative Commons