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Significant Renewable Energy Growth in U.S. Very Soon, New Estimates Predict

Renewable Energy

By Justin Mikulka

After revising its three-year U.S. power forecast, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has predicted major declines for fossil fuels and nuclear power alongside strong growth in renewables by 2022, according to a review of the data by the SUN DAY Campaign, a pro-renewables research and education nonprofit.


"FERC's latest three-year projections continue to underscore the dramatic changes taking place in the nation's electrical generating mix," noted Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. "Renewable energy sources are rapidly displacing uneconomic and environmentally dangerous fossil fuels and nuclear power — even faster than FERC had anticipated just a half-year ago."

While the independent federal agency forecasts robust wind and solar development, it also predicts a large increase in natural gas capacity, which is consistent with the current public emphasis of the newly rebranded "natural gas and oil industry." The projected gains in natural gas power, however, aren't enough to offset the sizeable drops in coal and oil, resulting in an overall decrease in burning fossil fuels for power in the U.S.

As we have noted on DeSmog, the oil and gas industry is publicly selling natural gas as a cleaner fossil fuel and a climate solution. Renewables represent a threat to its growing market share, both economically and based on climate concerns.

According to FERC, net new gas-powered generating capacity (which accounts for power plants expected to close) is predicted to increase by 19,757 megawatts (MW) in the next three years. Wind capacity is projected to grow by 27,659 MW and utility-scale solar by 17,857 MW.

International Energy Agency Also Updates Renewables Forecast

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has not been known for optimistic forecasts of renewables growth. In the past, IEA has been criticized by groups like the UK-based Environment and Climate Intelligence Unit for continuing to predict an oil and gas-dominated future, despite promising signs coming from wind and solar.

As DeSmogUK reported in April 2018, Dr. Jonathan Marshall, head of analysis at the nonprofit Environment and Climate Intelligence Unit, warned that the IEA's lagging forecasts on renewables growth created "a growing risk that commercial decisions are not based on the facts on the ground."

At this point, the cost of wind and solar combined with battery storage is cheaper than coal power, much cheaper than new nuclear power, and in many places also competitive with natural gas. In some areas, electric utilities are already moving from coal to renewables and skipping over the so-called "bridge fuel" of natural gas. The argument for a natural gas "bridge" to affordable renewable energy has been crumbling, and the economics of future power generation don't look good for this fossil fuel.

Even the skeptics at the IEA are starting to catch up. In recent reports, IEA now says renewables are expected to grow 50 percent in the next five years and offshore wind power is capable of producing more electricity than the world can use.

Offshore technical wind potential vs. electricity demand. IEA Offshore Wind Outlook 2019

In commenting on IEA's offshore wind report, Forbes noted, "The report carries particular weight not just for the enormous claims being made of wind power, but also because the IEA was long seen as skeptical about the potential of renewable energy."

It’s The Economics, Stupid

Meanwhile, Murray Energy, the largest coal company in the U.S. (whose CEO is a big fan of asking the Trump administration for coal bailouts), recently declared bankruptcy. Forbes published a column explaining how that came about. The answer can be summed up in three words: "free market forces."

Another recent report highlighted those free market forces as it forecast potential losses for Europe's coal industry to the tune of $7.3 billion this year.

In a sign of how things are changing, Forbes interviews Robert Threlkeld, global manager for renewable energy at … General Motors.

"It is a business transformation," said Threlkeld. "Customers decide when they will use clean energy resources — not just wind and solar but also demand response and energy efficiency. It is a comprehensive solution."

Quick reminder: General Motors is currently siding with the Trump administration in the battle with California over fuel efficiency standards. This is not a company with a track record of being "green" on principle — it's all about the money.

Which is why natural gas and nuclear are fated to suffer the same fate as coal in the power generation sector.

While the IEA and FERC have taken their time catching up to the economic reality of renewables, the free market has already caught on.

Warren Buffett is widely hailed as one of the greatest investors of all time, and he invests to make money, not save the planet. Buffett recently loaned $10 billion for a major fracked oil company merger and has profited off of oil trains with his company BNSF for the past decade.

However, Buffett is also in the power generation business and owns utility company PacifiCorp, which in October announced long-term plans to shut down coal generation in Western states and replace it with renewables — not natural gas.

Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.