EIA expects solar and wind to be larger sources of U.S. electricity generation this summer – But will still see $9 nat gas

Blackouts are on the horizon this summer
FILE – In this Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020, file photo, electrical grid transmission towers are seen in Pasadena, Calif. As if the pandemic and recession weren’t bad enough, millions of Californians have been facing the recurring threats of abrupt blackouts during a heat wave in the nation’s most populous state.

In our Summer Electricity Outlook, a supplement to our May 2022 Short-Term Energy Outlook, we expect the largest increases in U.S. electric power sector generation this summer will come from renewable energy sources. These increases are the result of new capacity additions. We forecast utility-scale solar generation between June and August 2022 will grow by 10 million megawatthours (MWh) compared with the same period last summer, and wind generation will grow by 8 million MWh. Forecast generation from coal and natural gas declines by 26 million MWh this summer, although natural gas generation could increase in some electricity markets where coal supplies are constrained.

Wind and solar power electric-generating capacity has been growing steadily in recent years. By the start of June, we estimate the U.S. electric power sector will have 65 gigawatts (GW) of utility-scale solar-generating capacity, a 31% increase in solar capacity since June 2021. Almost one-third of this new solar capacity will be built in the Texas electricity market. The electric power sector will also have an estimated 138 GW of wind capacity online this June, which is a 12% increase from last June.

Data source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook
Note: PV = photovoltaic

Along with growth in renewables capacity, we expect that an additional 6 GW of new natural gas combined-cycle generating capacity will come online by June 2022, an increase of 2% from last summer. Despite this increase in capacity, we expect natural gas-fired electricity generation at the national level will be slightly (1.3%) lower than last summer.

We forecast the price of natural gas delivered to electric generators will average nearly $9 per million British thermal units between June and August 2022, which would be more than double the average price last summer. The higher expected prices and growth in renewable generation will likely lead to less natural gas-fired generation in some regions of the country.

In contrast to renewables and natural gas, the electricity industry has been steadily retiring coal-fired power plants over the past decade. Between June 2021 and June 2022, the electric power sector will have retired 6 GW (2%) of U.S. coal-fired generating capacity.

In previous years, higher natural gas prices would have resulted in more coal-fired electricity generation. However, coal-fired power plants have been limited in their ability to replenish their historically low inventories in recent months as a result of mine closures, rail capacity constraints, and labor market tightness. These coal supply constraints, along with continued retirement of generating capacity, contribute to our forecast that U.S. coal-fired generation will decline by 20 million MWh (7%) this summer. In some regions of the country, these coal supply constraints may lead to increased natural gas-fired electricity generation despite higher natural gas prices.

Principal contributor: Tyler Hodge