Defying all projections, wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources set a series of records for domestic electrical generation during the first quarter of 2016.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) latest, just-released "Electric Power Monthly" report (with data for the first three months of 2016), net U.S. electrical generation from non-hydro renewables (i.e., biomass, geothermal, solar, wind) increased by 22.9 percent compared to the first quarter of 2015. Output from conventional hydropower also rose by 6.5 percent. Combined, generation from all renewable sources increased by 14.60 percent in January-March 2016 compared to the same period in 2015.
Further, utility-scale electrical generation from renewable sources hit an all-time high of nearly 17 percent (16.89 percent) of total generation. During the first quarter of 2015, renewable energy's share of net generation was only 14 percent.
Electrical generation by wind rose 32.8 percent and set a new record of 6.23 percent of total generation. In the first quarter of 2015, wind power's share was only 4.46 percent.
Similarly, electrical generation from utility-scale solar thermal and photovoltaics grew by 31.4 percent to 6,690 thousand megawatt-hours and comprised 0.69 percent of total electrical output. However, EIA also estimated that distributed solar photovoltaics (e.g., rooftop solar systems) expanded by 35.2 percent and accounted for an additional 3,146 thousand megawatt-hours. Combined, utility-scale and distributed solar accounted for over one percent (1.01 percent) of generation. A year ago, solar's share was only 0.72 percent.
Among renewable energy sources, only biomass and geothermal experienced declines at 1.4 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively.
In stark contrast to the stunning growth rate of renewable sources, nuclear power remained essentially stagnant — registering growth of only 1 percent; electrical generation fueled by natural gas was up by 6.7 percent, while that from coal plummeted by 24.2 percent.
Inasmuch as electrical output from wind and hydropower sources tend to be highest in the first quarter of each year, renewable energy's share of net electrical generation for the balance of 2016 may dip a little. Nonetheless, data for the first quarter appears to be swamping EIA's earlier forecast of just 9.5 percent growth by renewables in 2016.