US Demand for Electricity Declined in 2019 & Stagnated for a Decade, but 2020 Capacity Additions Are Wild

Where the heck are the EVs when you need them?

By Wolf Richter for WOLF STREET.

Electricity sales in the US isn’t exactly a high-growth business. In 2019, total electricity sales (in gigawatt hours) to ultimate customers are estimated to have fallen; through the first 10 months, according to the EIA’s latest Electricity Monthly, total electricity sales declined 2.9% from the same period in 2018. The only sector to which electricity sales increased – and just by 0.6% – was transportation, a tiny sector covering subways and other electric mass-transit systems. Sales to the other sectors fell, in order of magnitude of the sector: residential (-2.4%), commercial (-2.0%), and industrial (-4.8%).

In terms of annual sales of electricity to ultimate customers from 2008 through 2019, an image of stagnation emerges. Based on the full-year 2019 estimate, electricity sales in gigawatt hours over the 11 years from 2008 through 2019 ticked up only 0.6%, interrupted by some bigger increases and declines in between.

Stagnating electricity sales over the span of a decade, despite population growth and economic growth, is a function of many factors, ranging from higher efficiencies – for example, in the residential sector, LED light bulbs and more efficient HVAC equipment and appliances – to sending more manufacturing offshore, such as auto production. For example, new-vehicle imports from Mexico have nearly doubled since 2011.

Generating capacity additions in 2020 shift to wind & solar.

In total, 42 gigawatts (GW) of capacity via new power plants and small-scale installations (such as rooftop solar) will be added in 2020, and 11 GW of mostly old inefficient powerplants will be retired, for a net addition of 31 GW in capacity, according to the EIA’s generator survey, which provides estimates by power plant developers and owners about the capacity they’re planning to add or retire.

And of those 42 GW of capacity additions, 32 GW (76%) will be wind and solar (utility-scale and rooftop solar) – breaking all records.

This is particularly interesting when we look at US electric generation by source, which in 2018, came mostly from these four sources (not including rooftop solar):

  • Natural Gas: 35.2%
  • Coal: 27.5%
  • Nuclear: 19.4%
  • Renewables: 16.9%
    • Hydro: 7.0%
    • Wind: 6.5%
    • Solar (does not include rooftop solar): 1.5%
    • Biomass: 1.4%
    • Geothermal: 0.4%

In addition, the EIA estimates that about 0.7% (or 30 gigawatt hours) of total generation in 2018 came from rooftop solar systems, which would bring the share of solar to about 2.2% in 2018 and the share of renewables to about 17.5% of total generation.

The grid is designed so that its capacity can handle the largest loads during peak times. In Texas, that peak load period might be mid-afternoon on some day in early August. But in the middle of the night in late fall, most of that capacity – the huge amount of capital investment – sits idle, not generating revenues. Balancing out the energy portfolio and getting it ready for future demand for each region is a constant effort by the industry, including developers and owners of power plants. So here is what’s cooking for 2020.

Capacity additions in 2020.

Of the 42 GW of new capacity that the EIA expects to start commercial operations in 2020, wind accounts for 44%; solar for 32%; and natural gas for 22%. The remaining 2% of the additions will come from hydropower and battery storage. There are no coal-fired power plants scheduled to start commercial operations this year. But the capacity additions of wind and solar are breaking all records (chart via EIA):

Texas is the biggie: Over half of the wind power additions in 2020 are in five states: Texas accounts for 32% (Texas rancher: “What, they’ll pay me for wind?”); Oklahoma for 6%; Wyoming for 5%; Colorado for 5%; and Missouri for 5%.

Nearly 60% of the record additions of utility-scale solar capacity are in four states: Texas accounts for 22%, California for 15%, Florida for 11%, and South Carolina for 10%.

In terms of residential and commercial rooftop solar, the EIA expects a record 5.1 gigawatts of capacity additions to enter service this year.

Part of the reason for the record addition of wind and solar power capacity is the phase-out of tax credits at the end of 2020. From then forward, wind and solar will have to stand on their own two feet. As equipment costs have plunged over the years — and the “fuel” is always free — this is already happening around the world. But in 2020, the US industry is still scrambling to benefit from the tax credits.

Of the 9.3 GW in natural-gas power plants to start operating in 2020, over 70% are in Pennsylvania, Texas, California, and Louisiana.

This map from the EIA shows where those capacity additions will take place, with wind power additions concentrated in the middle of the country:

Capacity retirements in 2020:

Of the 11 GW in scheduled capacity retirements in 2020, coal power plants will account for 51%, natural gas power plants for 33%, and nuclear power plants for 14%:

Of the 5.8 GW in coal power plants to be retired, half will be in Kentucky and Ohio.

Of the 3.7 GW in natural gas power plants to be retired, 60% will be in California, mostly plants built in the 50s and 60s. But interestingly, the Inland Empire Energy Center, an efficient, modern (10 years old) combined-cycle plant with a capacity of 0.7 GW will also be retired because it has been operating under capacity for years.

Two nuclear plants will be retired, the Indian Point Unit 2 in New York in April and the Duane Arnold Energy Center in Iowa in December.

This map from the EIA shows that the electric capacity retirements in 2020 are heavily concentrated in just a few places:

Given the long-term stagnation of electricity sales, and the continued increase in capacity and capital expenditures, utilities have been hoping for years that the mass-arrival of EVs would boost electricity sales in the residential segment, as EV owners would begin utilizing the enormous and costly idle capacity in the middle of the night to charge up their EVs in their garages. But this hoped-for growth in revenues from the arrival of EVs, and the increased capacity utilization at night they’d bring, has been, for utilities, frustratingly slow in coming.

The Dallas Fed’s Fourth Quarter Energy Survey portrays an oil-and-gas industry in distress. Read…  Dallas Fed Outlines Somber Oil & Gas Industry, “Flaring” of Natural Gas Comes into Focus

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  142 comments for “US Demand for Electricity Declined in 2019 & Stagnated for a Decade, but 2020 Capacity Additions Are Wild

  1. 2banana says:

    This has been the nature of this industry for over 100+ years. Have these corporations not planned and understood this?

    “But in the middle of the night in late fall, most of that capacity – the huge amount of capital investment – sits idle, not generating revenues… the increased capacity utilization at night they’d bring, has been, for utilities, frustratingly slow in coming.”

    What about self imposed bottlenecks from political decisions appeasing a radical base such as the Governor of NYS banning any new natural gas pipelines or even upgrading existing pipelines throughout his state? But yet dictating to the utilities that they must continue to hook up new natural gas customers?

    Supply, no matter how inexpensive and “green,” cannot get to customers.

    • robert zawacki says:

      I wouldn’t claim that government was appeasing radical elements. Sounds way to politically motivated, which is in the same venue as you have stated. The continued reliance on fossil fuel is dangerous to the future, scientifically proven. Government, local and Federal has been mandated by Law to accomplish fair trade and equal representation. Private enterprise relies on a profit motive and is reluctant to use revenues that negatively affect their profit in the short term.

      • timbers says:

        Radical can be relative.

        Is some folk’s universe, radical is believing in scientifically proven facts like man made global warming, or incontrovertible empirical facts like SS & Medicare are self funding and do not contribute a penny to deficits.

        If facts conflict with predetermined opinions at variance with reality, some people who call that radical.

        Not wanting pipelines degrading your quality of life and real estate isn’t radical. It’s a challenge but I wouldn’t call it radical.

      • RagnarD says:

        “Scientifically proven”?

        Not quite.

        Check out David Collum’s great aggregation of info on the climate debate.

        • Phaedrus says:

          Ah a rambly, nutty blog post that really *casts doubt* on global warming, you’ve convinced me for one.

          Has it occurred to you that you are having to dig father and farther into the weeds to find an anti global warming opinion?

        • RagnarD says:

          Did u actually read any of that nuttiness from David Collum, chair (Or some such) of the chemistry department at Cornell?

          Yeah, he might not consider himself to be as much a climate expert as u consider urself to be, but I’m guessing he’s got a lot more scientific chops to flesh out BS than 99.999% of the twits retweeting the “climate science is settle” mantra.

          I dare u to actually read the Collum stuff.

        • CRV says:

          To add: Science actually never proves anything. They make things plausable by doing experiments. The ‘proof’ is in the statistics. When a multitude of different (! very important!) experiments come to the same conclusion, the hypothesis is made stronger, but still isn’t proven. We all know what can be ‘proven’ by statistics. A German scientist ones proved that children came from the stork, because when the population of storks was bigger in a particular year, the birth rate of human baby’s was higher too. There’s your proof.

          That a lot of people have the same opinion about something, doesn’t make it reality. A lot of people once ‘knew’ the eart was flat.

        • NBay says:

          For what it’s worth I looked up his papers accepted for publishing on Nih PubMed (77) and he probably is best described as an organic chemist specializing in reactions involving lithium. Too much reading to figure out what goals he may have in mind.

          However it looks like he has found an avocation.

        • NBay says:

          Just to add to my point, Ragnar, David Collum has not “aggregated his great info” into anything published in NIH Pub Med. Of 46,949 articles there related to climate change, he does not have ANY. He seems well respected at “Peak Prosperity” which he mentions (from my memory) as, “you may have wondered how an organic chemist winds up in economics?”.

          He may be a bio-metallic reaction ace, but as a climate scientist, I would say he is a profiting and/or paid for, QUACK.

        • RagnarD says:

          BTW, for those still looking reading here. DavidC put out one of the best (the best?) aggregations of what appears to be a conspiracy – the Vegas shooting. Or do ye all agree that the scientific analysis of the shooting soundtrack should be dismissed of of hand, ala the FBI? And the extremely well armed escort of what appears to be MBS out of the casino that night… all OK with that?

          Yeah, he’s not a ballistic / physics / audio expert, so I guess we can just dismiss what he presents on that. Plus, I’m pretty sure he’s white male.

    • RD Blakeslee says:

      Same Gov. has also banned fracking. But, as usual, WV is effectively the “third world country”, keeping New Yorkers warm with natural gas fracked in WV and piped up north. Two new pipelines are under construction in WV now.

      • NBay says:

        WV has a long long sad and painful 120+yr history of that. There was even a time when WV people were shot and killed for refusing to do their part for NYC, and the financial creeps it attracts.

    • Freewary says:

      If be happy to support the electric industry by charging an electric car in the middle of the night

      If only ….

      I could find one with enough range to gaurantee a round trip commute with the A/c blasting

      And while meeting above requirement also:

      Pencils out as a better LONG TERM investment (factoring in battery replacements) than my Mercedes 240d

      Sounds easy right?

      Pitch me.

      • Wolf Richter says:


        How much of a commute do you have? Over 250 miles round-trip? Over 300 miles round-trip? If that’s the case, you’ve got bigger issues than what you’re driving ;-]

        • Freewary says:


          Many NEW electric cars can handle my 30 mile commute with a/c blasting.

          But many USED electric cars with worn battery packs could not pass the above test.

          And I don’t find any electrics that are LONG TERM cost competitive with a reliable, economical used, internal combustion car. I’m talking about total cost of ownership. Not to mention my 240d which is the king of reliable used cars, exceptionally long lasting with lots of cheap parts available.

          Electric cars are TOYS fir people with extra fiat to burn- until very ong lived battery packs are available.

      • Willy Winky says:

        You could do what a lot of wealthy people do – buy a REAL car for serious trips — then buy an expensive TOY car (like a Tesla) for when you need to prance about and show off your ‘green creds’ at the organic coffee shop that does NOT allow plastic straws in drinks (where the coffee is flown in from Ethiopia daily).

        But make sure that you arm yourself with cognitive dissonance so that you can remain convinced that you are saving the planet (even though your car was made using huge amounts of fossil fuels – charged using huge amounts of fossil fuels — and has a 500kg toxic battery that will end up in the landfill when you replace it in a few years as it fails to hold much of a charge)

        • freewary says:

          @ willy winky

          +1 for the terrific advice

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Willy Winky,

          You know that Americans don’t give a crap about the environment when it comes to their personal vehicles. Ford’s F-series pickups are the number 1 best-selling US vehicle ever. Pickups and SUVs, the bigger the better, are hot. That’s the majority of what sells in the US. No one thinks these people are buying those vehicles because they want to buy an environmentally friendly vehicle.


          You’re being totally hypocritical about it. EV buyers buy EVs because … well drive one, and you’ll see, and look under the hood, and you’ll see, and check out the maintenance schedule, and you’ll see, and consider the ease of charging the vehicle in your garage overnight instead of having to go to the gas station. There are TONS of reasons to buy an EV that have zero to do with the environment.

          Holding EV buyers to some kind of homemade environmental standard is nuts, and throwing cherry-picked or homemade fake pseudo-data at it to prove your point is silly.

          Americans buy whatever they WANT TO BUY — and fuck the environment. And that applies to EV buyers too. You need to wrap your brains around that.

        • Willy Winky says:

          Wolf – actually Americans (and all people) are hypocrites when it comes to saving the environment. But that’s another story.

          As for cars I drive a BMW 440i. It’s 3 years old bought brand new. Never had a single issue with it. Just regular servicing.

          It is as fast as any Tesla but the main difference is that when I floor it to blast past a tractor trailer in half a second, the battery does not race towards zero. Cuz it isn’t electric.

          I get about 700km on a tank of petrol. I can get another 700km by stopping at one of many thousands of petrol stations in less than 5 minutes. I can get another 700km…. and so on.

          I have mentioned a mate who has a Prius. Have not asked about maintenance costs however he did mention he has replaced the battery 3 times so far. Each time the cost was around USD6000. That’s USD18,000 on batteries alone to date.

          Prius is a hybrid so not relevant in terms of range. Most pure EVs will carry you on average 300km. Reduce that dramatically if you are in a cold location.

          Then what do you do? You take a hotel room, plug the car in then wait and wait… and wait… and wait…. So add the cost of the hotel room to your costs of driving an EV. All this in the age of instant where people are ready to kill if the pizza boy is 5 minutes late!

          EV resale values are brutal — so add that to your cost of running the EV.

          I have recently seen that tires where faster on EVs particularly Tesla because of the weight of the massive battery – add that to your costs.

          I have one vehicle that I use to go to the gym or for other short trips, I use the same car if I drive 1000km up the coast for a vacation.

          Add the cost of needing to own two cars (one for long trips one for short trips) — purchase cost x 2, taxes and registration x2, parking x 2 (of course one eliminates the hotel costs for long hauls if one goes the two car route — so let’s cancel those costs out).

          Now let’s do the numbers. I suspect I am way ahead of the game by opting to go with my high powered, petrol sucking machine.

          Thanks but no thanks – I see zero reason to purchase an EV.

          They do not help the planet (many people who buy them for exactly that reason because they are delusional of course) and they do not save me money.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Willy Winky,

          Enjoy your ICE BMW. I owned two 5-series and loved them both. Other people enjoy their EVs. Like I said, people buy whatever they WANT to buy. Just don’t hold EV buyers to a different homemade environmental standard.

        • Jackflash says:

          OK, boomer.

      • NBay says:

        I wish drivers would go for more situational awareness than less. You are responsible for 2 tons of steel at 60-70mph. A lot of energy. Road noise is key info. Why strive to be hermetically sealed in alertness-reducing luxury from your real environment, and then entertained like you are in your living room.
        No wonder 40K are killed and thousands more maimed every year.
        Like it or not, other people have to trust you like they do their airline pilot. And pilot’s electronic helper gadgets are mil-spec, yours are not, nowhere near.
        Save the spacing out for the wide open Interstate spaces.

      • Lisa_Hooker says:

        For an EV it’s worse up here in the North. In summer A/C only needs to lower temp from ambient about 20 degrees. The EV heater on the other hand can easily need to raise temp about 70 degrees in the winter.

        As for climate change – getting a lot hotter can be quite uncomfortable. In the coming next Ice Age you freeze to death. History seems to show there will be another Ice Age. Most folks have such short term thinking.

        • char says:

          Heating the air in a very small room with a small bonus heater (a human) 70 degrees is about the same energy as cooling a small room with a small heater 20 degrees. EV’s and cold has little to do with AC and more to do with the battery

        • NBay says:

          That IS a big EV problem. Even the best ICE engines run maybe 40% wasted fuel energy (as waste heat, haven’t looked it up for a while), and that waste is what can be used to bring up inside temp on very cold days.
          It’s a good argument for hydrogen ICE as opposed to any batteries at all. Hydrogen is easily made at alternate energy plants, and the automotive exhaust is just water vapor.

        • char says:

          Hydrogen cars can’t compete with plugin hybrid hydrogen cars as hydrogen is much more expensive than electricity. But if everybody drives their daily commute on battery power than gas stations are not economically viable. Hydrogen is death for personal cars. Maybe a possibility for trucking but an ideal solution for tanks

  2. Snydeman says:

    Just bought a 2019 Chevy Bolt EV, so I’m proudly doing my part… ;P

  3. Greenspan noted that the computer revolution would decrease energy use. It didn’t work that way at the outset because consumers added so many things. EVs put more load on the grid, more losses, more coal burning, more deleterious to the climate. CNG cars are more practical, while pragmatism is an obsolete political value. The real issue in electricity is the EM. Many homes in Mexico have a single light bulb (USB charger).
    Wind apparently has ‘bird’ issues. My local utility has a policy which discourages enterprise solar farms. The electric gorilla is bitcoin mining, and we might not be far from finding ourselves in a world without reliable fiat money. Those jobs are not coming back (industry) and the carbon footprint for an electronic retail checkout machine is what?

    • HB Guy says:

      Bitcoin mining? Not unless you live in Quebec or another locale with cheap hydro.

      Reliable fiat money? An oxymoron, at best.

      Solution: Gold, real money, always has been…

      • Harrold says:

        Bitmain recently bought the Alcoa plant in Rockdale, Texas and is planning on taking advantage of that cheap wind power to mine bitcoins.

      • futurist potpourri: Financial centers will follow bitcoin mining centers, as you say cheap hydro. Governments will subsidize power to attract bitcoin mining, and if you are a resident your power will be discounted too. Same case can be made for countries with large gold reserves (mining all the gold is no more necessary than pumping all the oil) and a small currency float. City of London to Johannesburg? Read an MS broker report on utilities and filled in the blanks. Free power for everyone is not a great profit incentive. AI might alleviate the electricity needed to mine bitcoin, but a fiat disaster might accelerate the process. Gold’s true value is barter, and bitcoin is electronic barter, so bitcoin would imply a gold standard. It also implies far greater demand, and electricity for ‘frivolous’ things may disappear until such time as the number of transactions and the amount of bitcoin came into equilibrium.

        • medial axis says:

          In case you don’t know: Most bitcoin transactions (txs) will move to second layer solutions, such as the Lightning Network (LN), which reduce the electric used to, more or less, that of sending an email. On the LN txs are peer to peer, lightning fast and can far exceed anything the likes of Visa can do. Bitcoin’s main chain will become a settlement layer, slow but robust.

        • So maybe a thousand transactions involving the same products were done in a single day, then Bitcoin would come in like the BIS and settle the transactions? Next issue is the moral imperative, which the establishment will oppose. When they begin discussing the implications and threats to the American Way of LIFE!! Then you know we are getting close to a change, and as you mention by comparison, VISA, when credit cards first came out, people were generally distrustful of them, and mindful of the societal effect buying on credit and rolling over the debt creates.

    • Ethan in NoVA says:

      My 1998 Cray “Supercomputer” requires 90 amps at 208vac to run. A modern iPad mini 2 is more powerful and runs on batteries for hours :-)

      Even bitcoin mining will get more efficient (as the problem gets harder to solve?)

      • NBay says:

        I was pleased that electrical usage has remained flat for 10 years, very pleased. I wish it were the same for fossil fuels.
        To the Cray point, I hear Moore’s Law is no longer true as we are running up against minimum size problems. (Forget quantum computing, just from my studies of it, anyway)

        The downside of less electrical usage is that many people whose bodies (because of age, condition, occupation, etc) may be at health risk because they simply cannot afford A/C situations, or even a small room in the house to hide out in during the worst of local conditions.
        When I was in the Army in Ft Polk LA ’67 we were all tough young bucks, but even so, often had to wear the “wet bulb” uniform when marching to the next training site. This was pulling our shirt tails out, un buttoning them and un blousing our boots. Very sloppy and un-military looking training. We also were forced (under supervision) to drink lots of water and take salt tablets. Even so, a small medical truck often followed us and picked up those who passed out. As in fell flat. I also watched an HVAC guy fix one of our large A/C units at an anodizing plant next to our white tin building in full sun on a 100+ day. I couldn’t take it more than 5 min and he was silver soldering! I never use A/C (apt or PU) , but there are people in areas that will die without it and I hope the flat curve is not a result of more people in that situation. But I fear that it is, due to extreme income and net wealth inequality, so that’s a big possible negative point.

      • char says:

        Bitcoin will drop sustainable under the price of mining, business will stop mining, no new coin/ledgers, death of coin.

        You are right that bitcon will become more efficient.

        • Mike says:

          Bitcoin is actually kinda pointless – it creates decentralised “trust” by making cost of verifying transactions is too high for any single entity (or small conspiracy) to control 50% of the available compute power. Not sustainable in a world where marginal transaction costs matter: I’d rather the bid-ask spread on my TSLA shares not include the cost of the electricity required to get them recorded on the blockchain.

    • roddy6667 says:

      Greater Qingdao has 6500 city buses, half of which are CNG. 99% of the taxis are CNG, too. It’s a no-brainer.

      • char says:

        CNG is just a slightly different form of gasoline. Hardly any new tech, no big scale cost-savings to expect, cleaner but not clean. Batteries are also likely to be cheaper, especially in the case of city bus lines.

  4. Greg Franks says:

    Quick question: Have all the oil-fired plants been retired already?

    • Harrold says:

      Hawaii is the only state generating electricity by burning oil. Hawaii also has the highest electricity prices in the country.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      In the US, long ago. The oil price surge in the 70s and cheap natgas and coal killed them. There are a few left as backup, especially in New England, which is not well connected via pipelines to US natgas producing regions. During peak demand in the winter, New England runs short on natgas and local prices spike. Oil is easy to store, so it works as a backup. LNG imports are cheap now too, so that also puts pressure on the oil-burners. And more pipeline capacity is being built. So the last oil burners are likely to fade away over the next few years.

      • Frederick says:

        There’s a backup generator in Southampton NY near where I lived for many years It’s basically used in the summer to power all the mansions AC units, wine coolers and swimming pool pumps I suppose I don’t think they have switched it over to Nat gas as there’s a storage tank for oil and you can see the exhaust spewing out when it’s running

        • NBay says:

          Thats one big OK, BOOMERS! (not you, them)

        • NBay says:

          There was a similar set-up in Mc Bride, BC. The generator and the oil tank cars came up on railroad and provided electricity for the whole area, north to Dunster and a bit past to my Aunt and Uncles place, not sure how far south. But there were not a lot of people there in ’75 when I was last there, and I am sure everyone was electrically very very frugal.

      • RagnarD says:

        Backup? Yes.

        Since the polar vortex in 2014 there has been a big push by the regulators / ISOs (Independent System Operators) to increase reliability during critical periods via dual fuel capability.

        ie, gas valves / boilers freeze or demand for heating pulls natural gas away from generators during extreme cold periods. In such cases a dual fuel generator would switch to oil.

        The ISOs have implemented onerous Capacity Performance penalties for plants that don’t “show up” during demand spikes on the grid. So having dual fuel capability would allow a plant to both take advantage of the price spikes during such a period, and also avoid the potentially multi million dollar penalties. Some of which would simply be the return of the capacity payments they had been receiving fromt the ISO.

        For anyone who wants to geek out…

      • FluffyGato says:

        Was that a clever/subtle “burn out/fade away” play on words?

      • Lisa_Hooker says:

        As was explained to me New England is full of rocks (one reason they farm potatoes). Bedrock is often close to the surface. Too darn expensive to construct pipelines for the too few people. Truckable oil will be around there for quite awhile.

      • NBay says:

        How about “fuel oil” delivered by truck? I know my Aunt and Uncle’s old home in rural OH had a coal chute to begin with (it was still there) and then was converted to a fuel oil furnace. I remember being terrified as a little kid of it, like a black fire dragon in the basement, never went down alone.
        Anyway, isn’t that still used a lot back East, or did they all go to propane tanks?

        • BioChamp says:

          Oil heat is still quite common in New England. Even our home, 20min from downtown Boston, runs on oil for heat and hot water. We have a gas main 400’ from the house but the utility co. wanted us to shell out over 30,000 just to run the pipe to the house. Needless to say, we opted for a high efficiency Bunderus boiler. It’s an amazingly clean burning system. I do the annual maintenance myself and there is hardly any soot buildup. As an aside, I’m still skeptical about the value of rooftop solar in New England… but if prices keep coming down it’s likely someday I’ll bite.

        • NBay says:

          Thanks for the good info reply. Yeah, solar in many places isn’t as good, but even where I was off grid, I built tilt frames and adjusted every couple weeks or so. An easy 15 min job.
          You folks still have wind, wave, and hydro, though.

          Too bad more people don’t give these articles time to “season”, they are actually better reading after several days.

  5. Some Guy says:

    Probably need to factor in capacity utilization to get a sense of the changes in generation as a result of these changes. Per EIA, average capacity utilization factors for the U.S. are roughly 25% for solar, 35% for wind, 65% for gas, and 90% for nuclear. Also, as more solar and wind is built in a given area, the utilization factor for them is likely to fall (best locations are taken first, plus it is harder to integrate with the grid as the percentage rises).

    Allowing for this makes the change less dramatic, but it is still a lot of solar and wind that is planned, regardless, I guess another question is what the drop-off in 2021 looks like once/if subsidies are removed.

    • Augusto says:

      One thing to note about electricity utilization is that a lot of jurisdictions require that Renewables get preference on the grid either via subsidy or via regulation. The result is that utilization rates look a lot better for Renewables than it would otherwise be if they operated in level playing field. Also, not only is this practice essentially a hidden subsidy, but frequently this forces the actual costs of non-renewable power generation up via under-utilized capital costs picked up by utility users in their rate. Finally, much of the rising costs of renewables are hidden from consumers via the drop in gas fired generation costs and falling natural gas prices…in other words, if natural gas prices were flat, they would notice costs of renewables more. If this stuff was so good, they would show the “all-in” costs up front, rather than burying it.

      • Lune says:

        Not entirely true. Much of the decision is based on where the power comes from, not what’s subsidized. There are power generators designed for base load (cheap, steady output), and power generators designed to manage peaks (slightly more expensive, but able to ramp up and down quickly).

        Nuclear is the ultimate base load, because varying the output of a nuclear reactor is non-trivial task (ask the Chernobyl team on the night it melted down). Which is why their utilization is 90%. Regardless of subsidies, etc. nuclear power is never adjusted to “make way” for other power sources.

        Many of the new natgas plants are specifically designed as “peaker” plants, designed to be spin up and shut down quickly in response to variations in load. It’s not subsidies that do that, it’s because that’s what they’re designed to do.

        While subsidies can make a difference on the margin, no grid is going to risk a nuclear plant blowing up just to collect a few pennies by preferencing solar. Indeed, there are times when the price of power in certain grids is *negative*, i.e. the power company will pay you to take the power, because that’s cheaper than ramping down base load power plants.

        But secondly, you only focus on subsidies for renewables. Nuclear requires *massive* subsidies to remain even remotely competitive. Do you think utility companies are paying for Yucca Mountain and other sites where spent fuel must be securely stored for thousands of years? Do coal plants pay the insurance costs for the people downwind who get asthma? Forget that. They don’t even pay for the coal miners who die of coal inhalation sicknesses (look up the govt Black Lung program).

        I’m all for reducing subsidies, but let’s talk about *all* subsidies. Regardless, in 2021, there will be no more subsidies on renewables, while the subsidies for non-renewables will remain (and increase, as Trump wants to subsidize coal further). And yet renewables will still be cheaper. Solar PVs improve like computer chips i.e. on Moore’s Law. No other power source has similar economics, which is even natural gas plants are closing down these days.

        • Augusto says:

          I’m not talking about Nuclear. I used to audit these renewable power contracts. They are quite common in the oil producing areas, like Alberta where I live, and where oil companies build wind and solar farms or buy the power to prove they support the environment. However, they are subsidized up the you know what, which is why the oil companies “invest”. Without subsidies no one would touch these losers. In fact, Warren Buffett just bought into a large wind farm here in Alberta….you seriously think that this project is competitive against natural gas powered turbines with (trapped) spot gas going for less than 25 cents an mcf without subsidies. Theres a guaranteed power contract, well above market rates, which means Buffett can’t lose.
          Only the people of Alberta lose, Buffett never loses.

        • Lune says:

          “you seriously think that this project is competitive against natural gas powered turbines with (trapped) spot gas going for less than 25 cents an mcf without subsidies.”


          Maybe not older solar plants, but new projects being built around the world are now competitive even with natural gas, something that was unimaginable even a few years ago. There are for-profit companies designing large solar farms and selling power to the grid for cheaper than natural gas plants. The crossover is happening right now:

          Now, this is highly dependent on the price of natgas, so areas where natgas is basically free (like it seems to be in Alberta), it’s still cheaper than solar. But natgas won’t go cheaper than where it is, largely because *no one* is profitable at that price. Meanwhile, solar will continue to nosedive in cost.

          Furthermore, natgas plants still have a marginal cost. That is, once you build one, you still have to buy natgas to burn. OTOH, with solar, the vast majority of your cost is the initial install. After that, electricity is basically free for 30-40yrs or however long the panels last. There is no input cost. So even if the construction and maintenance costs of solar and a natgas plant were the same, solar will still be cheaper because its input (sunlight) is free, which natgas will never be.

          Furthermore, you’re only talking about direct subsidies, i.e. guaranteed high feed in tariffs that a grid will pay for solar vs natgas to encourage solar power. Firstly, those are going away. Secondly, this doesn’t include the negative externalities of burning natural gas that society pays for. Everything from climate change, to health effects, to the costs of cleaning up contaminated sites when the drillers are long gone. None of those are accounted for in that 25cent cost you cite. Now, I happen to think natgas is far better in terms of those external costs than coal or nuclear. But it still has hidden subsidies.

          But even with those hidden subsidies, natgas is now becoming uncompetitive with solar (wind passed it several years ago). It’ll be even worse. Not only have people stopped building natgas plants, in a few years, current plants will be prematurely retired. Just like coal plants have become stranded assets that are being closed ahead of schedule, natgas plants will face the same fate. Solar and battery costs are decreasing that fast.

          The economics of renewables are now relentless. They actually don’t need subsidies to compete. And their cost curve is still following Moore’s Law. Nowadays, you don’t need to be an environmentalist at all to support solar over natgas. Simple economics will do.

      • Rudolf says:

        It appears that the so-called externalities have been completely ignored when pricing fossil fuels. Things like the costs of air,water and land pollution. Things like medical costs incurred due to said pollution. In addition, the fossil fuel industry has yearly subsidies of $20 billion per year in the US alone. Plus the enormous costs of maintaining a huge military presence to “protect “ foreign oil fields. These costs are rarely,if ever, factored into the price of fossil fuels. If they were, fossil fuels would be, perhaps, prohibitively expensive. Removing subsidies from renewables does NOT create a “level playing field; it tilts the field much more towards polluting fossil fuels. And using these fuels is killing the planet. Have a nice day.

        • Augusto says:

          Lune & Rudolf: You know I find this so bizarre. I have actually looked and worked with the economics/financing of these Renewables, and actually have friends who install and work with them every day. This stuff is so far from economic, from really “working”, it is just well..But I’m sure there is an article or a blog, or something somewhere that says it all scientifically proven…like gold into lead…. My worry is that we really do have serious environmental problems, but instead of actually dealing with them in a serious way, by reducing consumption, by spending real money, by finding actual solutions that work, we are going to go for the easy. That is fantasy solutions of perpetual engines and magic thinking, electric planes that run off the atmosphere, car engines that use salt water, non-radioactive nuclear, hydrogen gleaned from methane, non farting cows, the angels, our saviours, and then the devils of course, the evil ones, the oil industry, carbon spewers, the big auto makers, just plain old industry, same old, same old,etc…Sorry, its not just about believing or fantasizing…it has to actually work and be affordable (doable)

        • NBay says:

          Agree with Lune and Rudolf. The fact you finally drove Augusto into a totally silly reductio ad absurdum argument (as often used by the Hannity crew against at least starting a Green New Deal) is just further proof you are right.

      • char says:

        The “fuel” in the case of wind/solar is free so they would always underprice every other form of electricity production so it is not really true that utilization rates of renewables would go down outside of some marginal effects

        • Augusto says:

          For Solar and Wind it is the Fuel is free, its the capital that converts the fuel to electricity and delivers it to customers that is expensive All capital facilities (i.e. plants, transmission lines, storage facilities) whether utilities or manufacturing facilities try to maximize units of production to spread and lower the cost of capital incurred per unit of production. In a perfect world, you want to be able operate that facility 24 hours a day seven days a week at maximum (boiler plate) capacity to keep costs per unit produced as low as possible. A plant or manufacturing facility, such as a solar plant or wind farm, can only operate when the sun shines or wind blows (and frequently at sub-optimal levels), which probably be at what max, 35 percent of the time. Even adding batteries doesn’t help. Since you will build battery storage for maximum capture, when the sun and wind are stronger, peak capture will be a very small point in time indeed. In addition, you’re only adding to storage and taking out of storage at sub-100 percent usage rates. I have no idea what that would be but it would be, but it would be pretty low. I find the whole battery argument a big ruse-it doesn’t solve the problem of sub-optimal use of capital, it adds to it. Finally, machinery, such as turbines, perform best when run at a constant rate and are more easy to maintain. Wear, tear and obsolescence actually increase when machinery is run at uneven rates, even lower ones with full life performance/utilization suffering as well…if the wind blows too hard you may damage the turbine, if it runs too slowly you may damage it, and constant fluctuations, slows and fasts, hurt it as well. As an illustration, a truck that drives day in day out on the highway will last a lot longer and cost a lot less, than one that makes deliveries in town, stopping, starting, going fast, slow, on the highway, idling at stops, etc…..This is just basic production engineering and plant economics…

        • NBay says:

          Pumping water uphill, batts, hydrogen ICE, and of course EFFICIENCY in everything. All have their place in a Green New Deal. Yes, fossil will have to be used to build that infrastructure.

          BUT…..I would bet future generations would MUCH rather have financial problems rather than serious unsolvable physical ones.

          Time is running out.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Some guy,

      “…another question is what the drop-off in 2021 looks like once/if subsidies are removed.”

      Yes, that will be very interesting. There are plenty of subsidy-free plants now up and running in other parts of the world. And they make money. But the US is a place where energy costs are relatively low, so it will be tougher. I will definitely report on it a year from now when we get the data.

    • RagnarD says:

      There’s a table in here with capacity factors by state. Desert states have CFs over 25%, non deserts states under 20%.

  6. John says:

    Thanks Wolf , very interesting.

  7. Paulo says:

    Yesterday, I received a Costco order for bulk LED bulbs. Not only do they last about 5-10X longer than incandescent, they produce just 9.5 Watts of transferred heat as opposed to the 60 watt bulbs they replace. Each 10 pack saves the purchaser the equivalent of $880 over their lifetime of use, including the purchase price. When LED bulbs first came out they cost approx $20 per bulb (or more), and only committed environmentalists would buy them. I just price compared and incandescent bulbs are now more expensive than LED bulbs, if you can find them.

    New houses, if they are built well and to code, will save individual homeowners thousands of dollars per year in electricity bills. Retro fitting inefficient homes will do the same thing, and homeowners can do the work themselves without too much trouble. The trend is clear. Going forward per capita energy use will and must decline. Individuals don’t have any extra money to waste.

    A note of caution: while heat pumps use (on average) about 1/3 of the electric energy required to run dedicated resistance electric heaters, they don’t work well in very cold weather. When the temperatures really drop coil heat units take over. Their big gain is in cooling and in more moderate temperatures. As the US uses more energy staying cool than heating their homes, and as the World is warming, switching out traditional furnaces and baseboard heat is the way to go. Here is the caution note. People need back up if the grid goes down. My niece just lost her power down in Bellingham WA for a day. They have no backup, whatsoever.

    • Brant Lee says:

      For Americans, homes are like cars, the bigger the better. Not to say how modern roofs store heat like ovens in hot sunny climates and everyone must have brick or stone on the exterior collecting the outside temperature for your HVAC to work against (including every unused room of the house).
      Simple planning can reduce heating/cooling dramatically such as the utilization of shade, windbreaks, more concrete and stone INSIDE to retain living area temperature, etc. But like the love of driving an SUV, only fuel cost will get people’s attention.

    • Old-school says:

      I live in a 100 year plus home not very well insulated and heat with only resistance heating. My utility bill has not broke $100 this year for total electric. I basically just zone heat it. The three rooms I use are heated as needed. Down to about 30 degrees F it takes about 1500 watts to heat an average size room. Here that is about $1.60 per day.

      I am probably the last person to live here. When I go it probably will be used for storage. It would be burning money to give a big tax credit to make the place energy efficient as some want to do. Single pain windows are probably original to the house. How long will new high tech windows last?

  8. Scott says:

    We use almost four million GWs of electricity per year and the total new renewable GWs for 2020 is 33 GWs or 0.000825%. It is going to take a really long time to become 100% renewable, but at least we going in the right direction.

    • David says:

      I think you are confusing GW hours, the power consumed over a year, and GW of capacity. Easily done if you’re not an engineer.

  9. Lance Manly says:

    Just checked, my solar system is putting out 2.5 KW to the grid. NG is a good complementary to renewables as the turbines can be spun up as needed.

  10. Bam_Man says:

    And if you were to back out the electricity used (wasted) to “mine” Bitcoins, the decline would be even steeper.

    • Wisdom Seeker says:

      Don’t give in to their framing.

      Bitcoins aren’t mined, they’re computed, using computers, using a lot of electricity to solve an artificial cryptographic problem whose sole purpose is be difficult enough to limit the number of times the solution can be computed, making the solutions scarce enough that charlatans can convince you they are a form of money.

      If you want a tradeable electronic currency that is nevertheless honest hard money, just buy shares in a physical gold or silver ETF whose warehouse is willing to ship you the gold or silver if you ask for it.

  11. DR DOOM says:

    I have owned Duke power and its absorbed part CP&L(Progress Energy) for decades. I sold covered calls on all shares of Duke at $90 strike contract due 1/17/2020. My cost basis is very low . I will pay the taxes and buy more canning jars and a bigger pressure canner, and the rest of the fiat gain will be converted to gold Eagles and land. I have had enough of a Market I do not understand . I understand Gold ,land and jars and what goes into the jars. I will be buying Duke in the future at $60-70 a share and after the dividend is cut.

    • HB Guy says:

      Dr Doom, good idea, but instead of Gold Eagles (22 karat), you might be better advised to buy Gold Maples, Buffaloes or Kangaroos, all of which are 24kt gold. Better marketability and acceptance, and Gold Maples have several anti-counterfeiting features.

  12. Petunia says:

    A few years ago, south Florida started transitioning to solar powered bus stops and street lights. I think they were doing solar in govt buildings for some things. After the upfront cost, the rest is savings for the local govts. I don’t know how wide spread it is now, but I’m sure it’s a growing trend in the sun belt.

    At that time, the schools and malls installed EV parking with free plugins to encourage the EV trend. Overall, conservation is up, add downsizing and the trend is a smaller energy footprint.

    • Lisa_Hooker says:

      Personal solution: Buy a house next door and run a heavy extension cord to the free plugin EV parking at night to recharge your home batteries.

      At some point some bright engineer is going to figure out how to charge a car then bring it home and use it to charge home batteries.

      Yikes, free energy. ;-)

  13. kiers says:

    Each of the sources of Electricity Generation follows zipf law exactly! 1/3, 1/4, 1/5, 1/6.

  14. Iamafan says:

    What’s the population growth of the USA? What’s the GDP growth that’s energy requiring? Money printing does not take too much energy.

  15. Unamused says:

    There are several plausible rationales for the decline in US electricity demand.

    The fact is, the recession which started in December 2007 never really ended. It did for the Financial Economy, which has gone through the roof and is really all that matters, but not for the Real Economy.

    As previously noted, There was a time when the activity of the financial economy was not included in GDP statistics, so as to provide an accurate picture of the real economy by distinguishing between the parasite and the host. Nowadays the statistics of the two have become so conflated that one has to do rather a lot of analytical gymnastics to get an accurate picture of the real economy, which is how Big Finance likes it. Further, asset inflation, skyrocketing debt, online retail, and the above-mentioned plausible rationales have concealed certain realities, but not for much longer.

    I’ve given it to the end of the year, but I’m being conservative here.

  16. wkevinw says:

    I have thought for several years that the power plant of the future is some combination: renewable + batteries, + carbon-based for surge/ or supply lag; e.g. use solar during the day, store in batteries (or not) and NG at night.

    Everybody’s happy(?)

    • robt says:

      Design capacity of the grid must be full capacity of traditional stable fuels due to inconsistency of renewable generation sources. Additionally, management of delivery of electricity is more difficult and less efficient now due to sometimes wildly fluctuating delivery of renewable input and the need to activate standby sources to compensate.
      Despite overcapacity, and ‘free’ solar and wind (except for huge capital costs of course) our electricity has gone from 6 cents to 23 cents/KWH.
      An additional cost of wind and solar, not fully incorporated yet is the retiring of spent equipment. Just one windmill has 3 blades weighing 50 tons, each up to almost 300 feet long, these must be replaced approximately every 15 years, and they are not recyclable; they must be chopped into little bits, transported, and put in landfill. This year 50,000 tons of fiberglass, plastics, foam, balsa wood etc, and escalating in coming years to 100’s of thousands of tons a year.
      Or we could just use NG; in some regions it’s almost free except for transport costs, and presently is being flamed off; i.e. wasted.

      • Wolf Richter says:


        “Or we could just use NG; in some regions it’s almost free except for transport costs, and presently is being flamed off; i.e. wasted.”

        Yes we do use natural gas if you can get a pipeline built to take it away from where it’s “almost free.”

        The problem with NG pricing is that now it may be cheap, but in 10 or 20 years, it may be very expensive. So over the life of a NG power plant, the fuel costs vary. But the “fuel” provided by wind and sun is always free, forever.

      • char says:

        You can assume a certain minimum capacity of solar during the day, especially because high demand days during the summer correlated with sunny days. And wind and high demand winter days also correlate. So you don’t need to have a 100% backing by tradition generation sources.

  17. unit472 says:

    When I was about 8 I was sitting in my friends basement when we heard a scream and then saw his father plummet down landing in a rose bush. He was cleaning the gutters and, if the rose bush broke his fall its, thorns tore him up pretty good. We laughed hysterically until we saw the glare on his face.

    Now you don’t have to actually get on the roof to clean your gutters but solar panels combine not only height and roof angles but electricity. I predict maintaining roof top solar panels will become the most lethal home accident in the years to come.

    • Unamused says:

      We don’t have gutters, but Eric and Virginie make sure they’re tied off when they get up on the roofs. It’s a long sheer drop from the astronomy tower. They also maintain the old tiles and the supporting timbers and made new tiles when they installed all the panels. We thought we might have to flare off excess hydrogen when we couldn’t barter it, but they were also able to make excellent refractory brick when we built the pottery kiln, hydrogen-fueled, so it’s not a problem.

      With standard safety precautions, falling from a roof should not be a consideration when doing roof or solar panel installation or maintenance.

      • Ethan in NoVA says:

        The panels don’t need much maintenance I would imagine?

        Also… Astronomy tower??

        • Unamused says:

          The kids like it but they really shouldn’t be up at 3 AM. Now that we have computerised remote controls and a camera feed to a projector in one of the galleries we don’t have six or eight people crowding around the Cassegrain and I don’t have to freeze my skinny ass off just to watch Enceladus transit Saturn.

          The panels get bird droppings and dust and critters used to chew the cables before we put them in conduits. As Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say, it’s always something, but usually not much.

        • roddy6667 says:

          Put a window at the same angle as the panels out in your yard. How long before it’s very dirty and restricting sunlight? That’s how often you have to go up on the roof and clean them.

        • Mean Chicken says:

          And excess hydrogen?

          Hmm… I thought hydrogen was derived mostly from distilling natural gas.

        • Unamused says:

          Commercial bulk hydrogen is usually produced by the steam reforming of natural gas, the 19th century synthesis gas method. We do water electrolysis mostly using PEM converters coupled to solar panels and wind turbines. Direct splitting of water with sunlight on catalysts avoids panels and turbines but so far is only about 15% efficient. There are hundreds of ways to make hydrogen, including from wastewater and waste plastic, but most of them are pretty lame. I think researchers doing development of thermochemical methods are probably wasting their time.

          I know a show-off who runs his Ferrari Testarossa from fuel reformed from atmospheric carbon dioxide and hydrogen. It costs him 22 euros per liter and it only looks like gasoline, but he’s got his engine tuned for it and he gets an extra 60 horsepower for his trouble.

        • NBay says:

          Simply is not true 666. I had solar panels for years off grid and I hardly ever bothered to clean them. Monitored amps to batt bank closely, too. Wind did most of the work? 2 or more bird droppings might get me up there. Hate washing windows, too, so hardly ever did that either. You and 472 try again.

      • Lisa_Hooker says:

        Exactly Unamused. Also it might be prudent for you to increase the sensitivity of the accelerometer setting on your antigravity belt for a softer landing.

  18. Iamafan says:

    Kaplan’s, Dallas Fed. ENERGY spending will fall 10-15% this year.

  19. Seneca's cliff says:

    A dirty secret that will put a crimp in renewables growth in the future is the disappointing service life of the big turbine blades and gearboxes in the large scale wind turbines built in the last 20 years. I have heard this from a close friend of mind that is head of North American Maintenance for a big european tower maker and also from a fraternity brother of mine who is CEO of one of the biggest wind developers in Texas. The economic payback on these big turbines requires a service life of 20-25 years but many of the blades are failing in 10 or fewer years due to leading edge abrasion and the gear boxes in about the same time. The scale of these turbines makes blade and/or gearbox replacement very expensive. Once the subsidies end we may see a huge fall off in investment in wind power as these important facts become known.

    • roddy6667 says:

      I read the same thing about 5 years ago. The article stated that virtually NO (0%) of wind turbines last long enough to pay for the electricity they produce. The wind power industry is not a way to turn wind into electricity, it’s a mechanism to move the taxpayer’s money into the pockets of the wealthy people who make and maintain the turbines.

  20. Willy Winky says:

    Solar 1.5% — I am reminded of this :

    Renewable energy ‘simply won’t work’: Top Google engineers

    Two highly qualified Google engineers who have spent years studying and trying to improve renewable energy technology have stated quite bluntly that whatever the future holds, it is not a renewables-powered civilisation: such a thing is impossible.

    Both men are Stanford PhDs, Ross Koningstein having trained in aerospace engineering and David Fork in applied physics. These aren’t guys who fiddle about with websites or data analytics or “technology” of that sort: they are real engineers who understand difficult maths and physics, and top-bracket even among that distinguished company.

    Even if one were to electrify all of transport, industry, heating and so on, so much renewable generation and balancing/storage equipment would be needed to power it that astronomical new requirements for steel, concrete, copper, glass, carbon fibre, neodymium, shipping and haulage etc etc would appear.

    All these things are made using mammoth amounts of energy: far from achieving massive energy savings, which most plans for a renewables future rely on implicitly, we would wind up needing far more energy, which would mean even more vast renewables farms – and even more materials and energy to make and maintain them and so on.

    The scale of the building would be like nothing ever attempted by the human race.

    In reality, well before any such stage was reached, energy would become horrifyingly expensive – which means that everything would become horrifyingly expensive (even the present well-under-one-per-cent renewables level in the UK has pushed up utility bills very considerably).

    • Wisdom Seeker says:

      Nearly the entirety of human history was “renewables-powered”. It’s possible. But it won’t look like the current marketing hype, and you might not like it.

      Toss that always-20-years-away fusion breakthrough into the mix, though, and you can have your renewables and eat cake too.

      • NBay says:

        Fusion….yeah, that little sun in a building notion. Met a guy ab diving early 70’s with a PhD in tritium who worked at Lawerence Livermore his whole career. He didn’t think it would ever work, but loved playing around with all the cool stuff and good pay. He used to swipe OD colored 95% Ethanol metal 1 gal cans for our parties…..not denatured.

    • NBay says:

      Didn’t know Google built wind turbines…that IS a diversified outfit.

  21. Unamused says:

    whatever the future holds, it is not a renewables-powered civilisation: such a thing is impossible.

    I won’t be inviting bought-off Google engineers to my renewables-powered civilization.

  22. NARmageddon says:

    I hope at least that the people who make energy decisions have finally figured out that charging electric cars at WORK during the DAY is the dumbest idea ever, since that is (as the article correctly says) when wind power is the least plentiful and electricity demand is the highest.

    The right time and place to charge your car is at HOME at NIGHT.

    Enough with those idiotic solar-roofed charging stations at the workplace. The solar does not even produce even a fraction of the energy needed, and it is the wrong time of the day to charge.

    • NBay says:

      They are probably lying to you and using it all inside the building, anyway.
      So your beef is actually just with the plug stations. Put nasty graffiti on them, and you’ll feel better.

  23. NARmageddon says:

    Second, don’t bother with electric cars until the coal fraction of the electric power generation is much closer to 0%. There is no point in running electric cars on coal-generated electricity, and any incremental demand for electricity for EV will be met by coal. Or coal-generating capacity that COULD have been turned off will be kept running because of EV demand.

    A highly efficient hybrid (a Prius) is almost 55mpg. A Tesla Model S is the CO2-equivalent of about 35mpg when running on average grid mix (CO2, and if the incremental needed for EV energy is supplied by coal, it is much worse, maybe 25mpg equivalent.

    Whenever I tell the truth abut this, people go batshit crazy. But I don’t care. The truth is that until we have much more wind power, a Tesla will make much more CO2 than a Prius. So drive a Prius and save the planet.

    The bottom line: CO2/mile = (CO2/kWh)*(kWh/mile)

    • Wolf Richter says:

      California no longer has any coal power plants. So you’re good to go :-]

      • NotMe says:

        In fact, California imports about 6% of its electricity from out-of-state coal-fired power plants, with another 14% coming from “unspecified imports”

        • Wolf Richter says:


          Your numbers are old or wrong. According to the California government, in 2018, the power mix by source was:

          — Coal: 3.3%, and almost all of that was imported.

          — Renewables: 40%: renewables excluding large hydro was 31.3%, and large hydro was another 10.7%.

          — Natural gas: 34.9%

          — Nuclear (from the one still active nuke, with the other one having been shut down) was 9%

        • NotMe says:

          Imported electricity if fungible. No matter what California officials say is the source, consider California buying electricity from the pool of US power.

          So according to CA 46% of power was imported. While they claim 3.3% was from coal, they are drawing from a US pool of power where 27.5% is from coal. Therefore unless California is an island, it is taking 27.5% time 46% or 12.5% of its electricity from coal.

        • NotMe says:

          Oh, and the portions for coal consumed by each incremental EV added to CA roads becomes the US average or 46% since CA has to import the electricity from outside the state.

        • NotMe says:

          I can do math. Meant 26% not 46% for each incremental new EV in CA.

        • Lune says:

          Imported electricity is *not* fungible. Yes, on a physics basis, an electron is an electron and goes wherever resistance is lowest. But due to limitations of the grid system, not every power plant in the USA is available to supply power to California. Which means you can’t just apply the average coal percentage of the nation to California. The grid operators have very specific contracts with power producers to buy specific amounts of electricity. Yes, on a physics basis, no one can say which source this particular electron came from. But that works both ways. If California buys electricity from a hydroplant in Seattle, those electrons can end up at a grid that paid for coal power just as easy as vice versa.

          In the end, your argument is meaningless. California paid for electricity from specific out-of-state producers (and grids). Whether that electricity ended up in California, or somewhere else on a physics basis, it ended up *somewhere* (And a lot closer to California than that, because CA isn’t buying power from a wind farm in Maine; the grid can’t deliver it). The more renewable power they buy, the cleaner the environmental footprint is. If more EV cars in California drive CA to import more green power, then that means more green power is produced.

          Over 10 years, it’s a lot easier to change the mix of power generation (as plants come online and offline), than it is to change the engine of a car. Which means even if your argument applies today (it doesn’t), that Tesla gets greener and more carbon efficient every year without doing a damn thing. That’s a trick the Prius will never manage.

    • NARmageddon says:

      @Notme, yeah, it is the same good old fallacy: “Our electrons are clean. It is the other people who are using dirty electrons”.

      @Wolf, whenever someone from California pretends that their electrons are coal-free, someone else on the Western Grid must be using those other coal-infested electrons. California-as-an-island is not an honest accounting of CO2 at all. All electricity on the Western Grid is, as Notme said, fungible.

      By the way, natgas-generated electricity is not CO2-clean either. Natgas is better than coal by factor of around 2 (50-60% thermal efficiency of gas-turbine plant versus about 30-35% for coal-based steam-turbine plants), as well as less CO2/MJ burned because less C and more H in natgas).

      Taking a step back: What matters is to displace as much CO2 as possible. For max CO2 displacement, minimize gasoline consumption, reduce COAL-based energy to zero before natgas, then reduce NATGAS-based energy to zero. At any given moment, the correct car to drive is the one that leads to the most displacement CO2 of fossile-fired energy.

      To put it simply, minimize gasoline cars, maximize Prius, and do NOT buy a Tesla.

  24. Wisdom Seeker says:

    Article would benefit from two points of context:

    (1) The net addition of 31GW in nominal capacity is only 3% of the ~1,000 GW available US nominal capacity.

    (2) “Capacity” for weather-dependent seasonal renewables like solar and wind is not the same as “capacity” for “on-demand” systems like gas or hydro. Until we can command the sun to shine and the wind to blow hard everywhere at once, we’ll never get full rated output from the entire wind+solar grid. But one could have nearly all the other plants online when requested.

    (3) The appearance of a capacity increase may be misleading. Suppose utility system is phasing out older high-utilization baseload systems (70-90% uptime). Suppose these are being replaced mainly with lower-uptime renewables (25-30%) which aren’t always producing when needed. The system could easily require 3x more nominal capacity (installed vs. retired) to deliver required energy output.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Wisdom Seeker,

      To your point #3: It’s the opposite of what you’re supposing. All plants but one that were retired were old plants that have been run below capacity in recent years and only when absolutely needed because they were inefficient (creating high fuel costs) and expensive to operate – old NG steam-turbine plants and old coal plants. This is the typical scenario. Power generators run the most efficient plants as much as they can to save on fuel costs, and use less efficient plants when demand forces them to.

      The only exception was the Inland Empire Energy Center, a modern efficient combined-cycle natural gas plant that was retired because of lack of demand. It too had been run below capacity for years. Retiring such a modern plant is rare, and because it’s rare, I pointed it out in the article.

      • Wisdom Seeker says:

        There’s another way to reach the conclusion I drew above. Bottom line is that the EIA data archive shows the capacity factor of the US power grid has dropped 10% since 2007.

        Capacity factor is the ratio of “net energy generation” vs. “available capacity”. The US “total generation” was nearly the same in 2018 vs 2007, but it took 10% more installed rated capacity to do so.

        That might not be due to malinvestment or under-utilization. It could simply be that the mix of systems has shifted. The mix has shifted away from baseload power and towards intermittent sources. The intermittent sources require inherently higher rated peak capacity to deliver a given amount of net generation each year. Because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.

        Here’s the data per the archived EIA reports:

        Per the EIA report that Wolf linked in the article, Net Generation (Table 1.1) rose from 3,444,188 GWh in 1996 to a peak of 4,156,745 GWh in 2007, fell in the recession and then slowly rose back to 4,174,398 GWh in 2018. But Net Generation has been within ~6% of 3,900,000 GWh since 1999.

        Meanwhile, Total Capacity (last row of Table 6.1) was 996 GW in 2007 and rose to 1098 GW in October 2019.

        So in the past ~12 years, capacity is up 10%, but Net Generation has been flat (and has been for 2 decades).

        Table 1.1 on Net Generation by Energy Source shows data from 2009-2018 broken out by source. There’s a clear shift away from coal (down from 44% of total to 27%). There’s a shift towards NatGas (up from 23% to 35% of total). There’s also a shift towards renewables (ex hydro but including solar, up from 3.6% to 10%). Nuclear is flat.

        In the same report, Tables 6.7.A and 6.7.B show that the typical capacity factors for the coal plants have been much higher than for the solar and wind systems.

        So it seems entirely reasonable to figure that with more power coming from intermittent sources, total rated capacity must be higher in order to deliver the same net energy.

        • Lune says:

          I agree with you on this. Even an “under-utilized” coal plant probably has higher utilization rates than a solar plant. However, I would add cost to the consideration. If a solar plant runs at 10% lower utilization (it actually probably runs much less than that), but is still overall cheaper than the coal plant, in terms of total lifecycle costs, then renewables are still preferable.

          The real problem is that our outdated national grid is not setup to deal with the new power flows. For example, even in the pre-renewable era, there were peaks and ebbs that had to be accounted for. The peak was typically in mid-afternoon, which is when A/C load is highest. Every power plant available would run at peak capacity during those times. But now, solar is so prevalent, that hot, sunny mid-afternoons are now when base load plants need to be cut, or power exported out.

          Additionally, solar areas and windy areas are not well connected on the national grid (no reason to connect them in the past), which means they can’t share power. So you can’t take advantage of their different patterns of power generation to smooth out the overall output.

          A good bit of the utilization issues with renewables can be solved by an improved grid that allows time shifting, that would allow solar power from the west coast to be sent to the midwest and east coast during their peak load times (when the sun is still shining brightly in CA), and import wind power from the midwest during CA’s peak times (when the midwest is settling down for the night).

          Another big part will be solved by utility-scale energy storage systems.

          And finally, a big part will need to wait for the smart grid, in which appliances and electrical equipment automatically optimize their electricity use to spread demand into non-peak times.

          But those changes are coming, and when they do, the utilization of renewables will go significantly higher, further contributing to their cost advantage.

  25. Yak now says:

    Considering the millions of 60-100 watt incandescent light bulbs that were replaced with CFL and LED using 1/4 the wattage, I would have expected total electricity use to have plummeted.

    Induction cooktops are more efficient. Microwave ovens are more efficient. Many people have increased their use of propane grills for cooking. The SEER rating on air conditioners has climbed. The continued shift from old tube TVs to flat screen TVs… it seems like electricity use should be way down.

    Thousands of factory jobs have moved offshore, taking the energy demand with them. Electricity use should be way down for this reason too.

    If Wolf’s chart is correct, that means new device electricity use has completely canceled out efficiency gains (eg from switching to LED) and factory offshoring

    • Max Power says:

      The US population is growing so it’s reasonable for demand for demand to grow due to new device additions.

      A good metric to use would be electricity consumption per capita.

  26. NotMe says:

    Wind and solar are not capacity additions. Unless wind and solar are met with equal additions in other forms of energy, they do not add capacity, they only contribute to reducing use (not capacity) in the other forms of energy. This of course makes other forms of energy more expensive since costs need to be amortized over lower usage — usage rates go up.

    Wind and solar are a fool’s trap.

    By the way, for EVs, the problem with wind and solar is that there is no sun at night when cars are home to recharge, and winds typically die down at night. Checkmate.

    • Unamused says:

      Wind and solar are a fool’s trap.

      We haven’t had more than a trivial energy bill in years. We still turn things on a couple of times a year, just in case, because we’re nobody’s fools even though we’re trapped.

      By the way, for EVs, the problem with wind and solar is that there is no sun at night when cars are home to recharge

      I must know a hundred ways to store electricity, but we convert it to hydrogen because it’s about 70% efficient on a bad day, much better than methane conversion. We run a lot of stuff on hydrogen besides the Bentley, which had a range of only 900 km before we got the KERS flywheel. We used to hydrogenate olive oil to make margarine but everybody preferred butter and it was more trouble than it was worth to sell.

      winds typically die down at night.

      Good thing, too. Rattles the telescope.


      Nope. Bxe5. Check.

      • Mean Chicken says:

        Ahh, so the hydrogen is generated using a KERS flywheel! ;) I’d imagine flaring the excess would disrupt the astrology station as well.

        • NBay says:

          KERS is used for overtake, along with DRS if you are in the right zone and <1sec behind, at least last year.

      • David Hall says:

        FPL (electric co.) has a large scale solar array in Florida. Solar costs coming down. There are large scale batteries via R&D.

        Canada has renewable hydro in massive quantities.

        Bill Gates wants small scale nuclear reactors.

        Russia has hydro. Not sure why the Kremlin was selling weapons to Muslim jihadis. They seemed to have missed better opportunities. Look at the GDP of South Korea almost as large as the world’s largest nation.

    • max says:

      Germans found this hard way.

      the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow

      “Of power demand totaling 69.0 gigawatts (GW) at 3 pm on the 12th, for instance, just 0.7 GW was provided by solar energy, 1.0 by onshore wind power and 0.4 offshore. At noontime on the 14th of December, 70 GW were consumed, with 4 GW solar, 1 GW onshore and somewhat over 0.3 offshore wind.”

      “While wind and solar nameplate capacity represented 84 percent of Germany’s average electric power generation of 70.4 GW, it ultimately generated only 11.9 percent of total electricity (up from 11.2 percent in 2011). There are simple reasons for that discrepancy: night, cloud, and calm.”

  27. VintageVNvet says:

    Based on most of these comments, we are mostly Doctors of Doom, and that may very well be the actual basis of the “OK Boomer” for you younger folks.
    Now in the middle of my 8th decade and learning a lot every single day, I suggest the future energy situation will be a result of the over turning, or possibly extension of many of the currently accepted rules and laws of physics, etc., and have very little to do with the temporary sources, including wind, solar, fossil fuels, that are relied on today.
    Coal and petroleum will be used as feed stock to manufacture long term (1,000 years or so) while ”real” stainless steel will be used to make permanent things, etc.
    IMHO, it will be gravity sourced energy combined with simple human powered devices that will make locally produced and stored electricity free for the home user, and free for manufacturing, for instance, of long term vehicles that will be ”fueled” by ”gravity mirrors,” or some such devices not now being considered.
    My grandfather thought it was the cat’s meow that he had driven one of the first automobiles and then lived to see humans walking on the moon. I think the progress in electronics alone in the last 50 years or so has been far more spectacular, and considering Moore’s law principles are likely to continue and continue to increase the rate of improvements increases…
    So let’s all eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we dine! And to be sure, most of us dine better today than 99.99XXX per cent of all people who have lived on earth.

    • Seneca's cliff says:

      I wouldn’t be so sure about Moore’s Law continuing. In the last month I have had conversations with three different engineers at my local microbrewery. All of them work in different roles at Intel’s Ronler Acres D1X Fab. They all told me the same thing based on what was going on right now in the cutting edge of chip fab. “Moore’s Law is Dead”. Not that Moore’s is slowing down, or will be dead soon, but that it is dead now. This means that computer chips will not be getting faster at the same time that they get cheaper. They will see incremental improvements, but like many other things in the regular world these improvements will come at greater cost.

      • Lisa_Hooker says:

        Yup. Moore’s law, which was based on ever shrinking lithography, has been almost dead for almost a decade. That is why commercial chips don’t go much faster than 3 GHz and design efforts went to multiple cores and more complex architectures.

        • char says:

          This is also an explanation why electricity consumption went down. Designing a chip that uses little energy is much harder than a fast one but the faster ones did not become faster so the frugal chips could catch-up on the fast ones and most people switch from buying fast to buying frugal

    • Lisa_Hooker says:

      Right on VintageVNvet. And all will be taken care of when we recover the Zero Point Module that the aliens buried in Antarctica.

  28. NotMe says:

    What seems to be missing in all of this is that electrical consumption in the past was a mark of industrial activity. Residential activity never really meant as much of an indicator since it remains relatively constant. The business cycle was met with increased electrical consumption on it upswings and decreases on its downswings.

    What if anything this lassitude in in electrical consumption shows is simply that the USA is de-industrializing, something that we can readily agree upon.

  29. Max Power says:

    It’s a bit misleading to lump together renewables and non-renewables all in one bucket of gigawatts because of the intermittent nature of many renewable sources, especially if there is no energy storage facilities being built alongside those renewables to be used store some of the electricity they generate for when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow. Also note that storage tends to also be very expensive.

    Folks often compare electricity from different sources using plants’ nameplate capacity, not realizing that say a 1000MW nuclear plant will churn out waaaaay more electricity than say a 1000MW solar farm due to the different capacity factors of these plants. Oh, and that 1000MW wind farm will also take up way more land than the nuclear plant.

    • NBay says:

      How much land will be “taken up” if we stop replacing that very expensive cover over Chernobyl every 20 years or so for the next n thousand yrs?

  30. Mean Chicken says:

    My all-stainless Forever Family Truckster will have two oversized high-flux capacitors mounted on the front grill. And, bulletproof transparent aluminum windows.

  31. Michael Engel says:

    1) The sun is a great source of energy and vitamin D.
    2) Those who worship the sun and make her the dominant energy
    source, between 11am to 3pm, their veins are clogged.
    3) NG, Coal, nuke, imported energy are severely constricted, because
    of solar energy clogging.
    4) But they are needed along with the sunand the wind and the flowers. So, the other major cost centers are semi idle when the sun is shining
    and demand is high, and semi idle during night time.
    5) Waterfall batteries are required, but they can flood the whole state.
    6) And in a state where water and energy shortages are common,
    the cost of providing them will go higher.

  32. Yak now says:

    Mystery solved!

    All the wattage saved from LEDs, offshoring factories, and more efficient houses…

    …is going to grow lamps for marijuana “medicine”.

    Can’t wait for the health care costs for lung damage and disrupted serotonin / depression.

    • NARmageddon says:

      Several years ago there was an estimate that 11% of the California electricity consumption was cased by indoor growing of marijuana. I always found that to be extremely perverse given all the free sunshine outdoors.

      Legalizing marijuana hopefully has helped.

      • NBay says:

        Up where I have my mostly southern slope 40 acres, most all the locals grow like crazy. They went from pirates to gentleman farmers. Dope is like wine, many micro climates produce many appellations for the discriminating. Some sell through legal channels, others use their years old black market connections. It all works out and everyone is very happy.

  33. sammy iyer says:

    In other news: NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s electricity supply fell for the fifth straight month in December, provisional government data showed, potentially reflecting sluggish industrial activity amid an overall economic slowdown. Lower electricity supply could mean a fifth consecutive fall in power demand, as electricity deficit in India is marginal.

    Electricity supply fell 4.2% in November and 12.8% in October, according to the CEA. The October decline in electricity demand and supply was the fastest in at least 12 years.

    Electricity demand is seen by economists as an important indicator of industrial output and a deceleration could point to a further slowdown.

    Annual consumption of electricity by industry accounts for more than two-fifths of India’s annual electricity consumption, according to government data, with residences accounting for nearly a quarter and commercial establishments for another 8.5%.

    India’s overall economic growth slowed to 4.5% in the July-September quarter, government data in November showed, the weakest pace since 2013 as consumer demand and private investment weakened.

    Slower economic activity has resulted in a fall in sales of everything from cars to cookies, prompting some large scale industries such as the automobile sector to slash jobs.

  34. NARmageddon says:

    Here’s some data on the seasonality of wind power in California, and also some data on day-to-day variability can be found from the same source. Please note that CA and TX and ND all have different wind=f(hour) patterns, and Calif has pronounced night-time wind peaks and 08-16 wind lulls.

    Some people think the key to wind power is energy storage. I disagree. Especially battery storage is still very expensive and very resource-intensive. Pumped hydro (pump water uphill into dam when excess wind power available) is most efficient but geographically scarce.

    Therefore: The key to increasing any sort of intermittent renewable energy usefulness is to increase the interconnectedness of the grid, thereby getting the (wind, solar) power from where it is abundant at any given time. All kinds of good things can happen with a highly interconnected grid: Weather arbitrage and time-zone arbitrage are two big benefits. Storage arbitrage is another one. But we need strict laws to prevent grid operators from gaming and choking the system for profit, as it did in California in year 2000-2001. And for gods sake keep Wall St out of it. They will optimize for profits rather than global benefit. The grid should by law minimize the CO2 emissions over time, not maximize anyones profit.

    UPSHOT: The more interconnected the grid (customers, generators, storage), the better it can be optimized at any given time to allow minimal CO2 generation.

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