Based on some new information from the EIA, and other government news outlets, it look like solar and wind generated power is starting to take over the renewable energy landscape.  In fact, the EIA estimates that wind has already surpassed hydroelectricity generation. By 2035, both wind and solar will surpass hydroelectricity generation altogether.

Taking a deeper look into why this shift will occur will help us to better understand how important renewable resources will become throughout the United States. Analyzing renewable resources like solar and wind, and how they will help to generate more reliable electricity, will also help us to better understand the future of energy in America.

What is Wind Power?

This kind of power is generated using the force of the wind. To generate electricity, turbines are generally built, with giant windmills that turn as the wind pushes them. The kinetic energy is then converted into electricity through a generator. There are many different types of turbines that apply to different industries including,

  • Residential
  • Utility
  • Commercial
  • Small Commercial
  • Large Commercial
  • Industrial

What is Solar Power?

This type of electricity is generated from the sun’s rays. Instead of turbines, special panels collect the sun’s rays and that energy is converted into electricity. With the latest advancements in solar technology, many people in many industries and sectors can take advantage of this renewable resource including,

  • Residential
  • Commercial
  • Small Business
  • Industrial
  • Government
  • Utility

The Clean Power Plan

The EIA recently released their Annual Energy Outlook Report for 2017. This report outlines many details about the energy industry. It also includes some interesting analytics regarding renewable energy across America. In general, the Clean Power Plan (CPP) encourages power plants and many other organizations in every state to turn towards renewable resources to help reduce carbon emissions. Based on state specific plans, and their Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), there is currently a higher demand for solar and wind generated electricity. This demand is expected to last well into 2020.

Many of the tax credits associated with the CPP primarily pertain to renewable energy– especially wind. There is a specific tax credit that the CPP offers for the production of additional wind capacity. This tax is scheduled to expire in the near future. As a result, many organizations have focused on implementing this type of renewable energy in order to take advantage of the credit. While wind generated electricity is relatively inexpensive to set-up, these tax credits are an appreciated benefit to power plants and other organizations.

What about other Renewable Resources?

While it’s true that solar and wind are the current leaders in renewable energy, the EIA report indicates that geothermal systems are also appearing across the United States. However, despite the fact that these resources are much cheaper to implement, they are difficult to develop or invest in. The reason for this is because they aren’t as widely available (geographically) as the sun or wind. Therefore, geothermal resources are only expected to see limited and slow growth into 2020 and beyond.

Wind Power Surpasses Hydro in 2016

Towards the end of 2016, wind generated power surpassed hydro generated power in the United States. This is an important shift, because wind traded places with hydro to become the leading renewable resource in electricity generation. According to an article published by the EIA on March 6, 2017, wind generated electricity provided 52.1% or 11,419 MW of the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) electric system’s “generation mix”. This event marked the first time wind power provided over 50% of generated electricity out of the 7 American Regional Transmission Organization (RTO) electric systems. In addition to this achievement, on December 25, 2016, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) used wind power to generate a record breaking 16,022 MW.

Today, 5.5% of the electricity generated in the United States is from wind power. The amount is 4 times greater than the electricity generated by solar power. It is enough wind power to provide 24 million homes with electricity.

According to the CSG-ERC, in 2016 there were 5 states that generated 20% of their energy from wind power. These states include,

  1. Oklahoma
  2. Iowa
  3. Kansas
  4. North Dakota
  5. South Dakota

Vermont is the state that generated the most electricity in 2016 from wind power at: 15.3%. Maine followed closely behind, generating 13.1% of their power from wind.

Solar Power Utility Installations

Despite the fact that wind power has currently surpassed hydro generated electricity, solar power is also expected to surpass it by 2035. While solar power technologies seem to change from year-to-year, it has only been recently that the cost of purchasing and then implementing the technology has decreased– especially for residential users. The benefits to the advancements in technology also mean that the performance of the solar panels and other related equipment has also improved significantly. Both of these elements will help to encourage more individuals and organizations to invest in solar power.

Based on the EIA 2017 Energy Outlook Report, the CPP also offers a “Permanent 10% investment tax credit”. This is very important because it provides a bit of financial assistance to those looking for another way to generate electricity via a renewable resource. The report also indicates that utilities will invest in the majority of solar installations, well into 2040.

Solar Power Plans By State

Many states have included solar power in their plans to reduce carbon emissions. Some of these plans include:

  • Massachusetts: 400 MW solar PV by 2020
  • Pennsylvania: 0.5% MW solar PV by 2021
  • New Jersey: 4.1% MW solar PV by 2028
  • Delaware: 3.5% MW solar PV by 2026
  • Maryland: 2.5% solar electric by 2020

The Future of Wind and Solar Power

Overall, the EIA estimates that wind and solar will be the leading renewable resources for electricity generation in the United States by 2035. As a result, investment in hydroelectricity is expected to remain fairly stagnant from 2020 and beyond.

Based on the information gathered by the EIA, they can also project that due to the available federal tax credits, “Wind and solar units will be amongst the most competitive sources of new generation in 2022.” It is estimated that the wind plants constructed in 2018 that begin to generate electricity in 2022 will receive a major tax credit. This credit is estimated to be around $14/MWh. Solar plants that start generating electricity at the same time will receive a tax credit of 26%.

While these tax credits will help power plants, utilities and other organizations to afford wind and solar systems, they do and will have an impact on the cost of the electricity generated. The EIA report suggests that “other policies might affect the value” or demand growth of the electricity.