Combined Wind and Solar Reach 7.2% of Total US Electricity in 1H 2016

The transition to renewables, wind and solar power in particular, has typically run ahead of expectations this decade and fresh data from the United States illustrates this phenomenon nicely. In the first half of this year, combined wind and solar provided 140.97 TWh of the 1959.20 TWh generated in the country. At the start of the year, the forecast was that combined wind and solar would contribute 6.5%. But in the first six months of the year, the combined share is already at 7.2%.

Share of US Electricity Generation in 1H 2016 by Source

When we look over the most recent projections for coal retirements—and conversely new natural gas, wind, and solar capacity additions—for the 2H of 2016, it seems clear that combined wind+solar generation will now be a minimum of 7.2% for the entire year, and, will likely advance further. Previously, considered it aggressive to project that combined wind and solar would reach 10% of US electricity generation by 2020. But that forecast is now looking easily achievable. At current rates, by the time we are into the year 2020, combined wind+solar is likely to provide 12-13% of total generation.

A final note on coal: it’s hard to believe but just five years ago, coal was holding on to more than a 40% share of US power generation. That share has now fallen to 28% in the 1H of 2016, and will decline further. However, because the great wave of recent coal retirements is slowing down, coal’s share of US electricity generation will retain a firm 20-25% as we head into the end of the decade. Coal growth in the United States has now fully terminated—and that may also be the case globally. The relentless cost declines and capacity factor increases for both wind and solar are now very much a part of coal’s current troubles, and the learning rate of renewables is set to bear down further on coal.

It used to be the case that the outlook for coal in the United States was not a good predictor for coal’s fortunes in the rest of the world. However, we may now have reached a turning point where the competitiveness of wind and solar is a global phenomenon, and, just as in the United States, spells the demise of further coal growth everywhere.

–Gregor Macdonald