Webster’s defines revolution as “a sudden, radical or complete change.” The ongoing revolution in the United States electric utility industry fits that definition to a T. The changes have been unbelievably quick (at least by company standards, if not by activists’ desires), and the long-term impacts are going to be both radical and complete. Importantly, particularly in today’s political climate, I would add that the transition is unstoppable—like the inexorable forward advance of a glacier.
What got me thinking about this were two short news releases from the National Electrical Manufacturers Association earlier this week regarding shipments of LEDs during the third quarter of 2016 (the latest data it has available). In one, NEMA said that shipments of A-type LEDs (the most commonly used bulb for residential applications) topped 30 percent of the total for the first time, continuing a surge that has seen its market share climb from essentially zero just two years ago.
In the second, NEMA pointed out that it had added so-called T-LEDs to its statistics tracking shipments of the linear fluorescent tubes (marketed largely as T5, T8 and T12, which denote their diameter in eighths of an inch) that dominate the commercial and big box retail markets. In the third quarter, NEMA said, T-LEDs accounted from 12.8 percent of all shipments in this category—almost double the 1st quarter results, the first time NEMA even included the segment in its quarterly report. As with the A-line LEDs, sales of T-LEDs were essentially nonexistent in 2014.
Green Power Revolution
An Unstoppable Glacier
The Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook is always chock full of interesting data, and the 2017 version, released uncommonly early last week, is certainly no exception. For its part, EIA highlighted the prospect of the U.S. becoming a net energy exporter in the near future, a far cry from the import-dependent years that drove policymakers crazy in the late 1900s and early 2000s. But from my perspective, the key takeaways can be found in EIA’s analysis of electric sector market shares in a reference case including the outgoing Obama administration’s climate change-fighting Clean Power Plan and a second case assuming the CPP is withdrawn, as the incoming president and his team have said they intend to do.
For starters, regardless of its assumptions, EIA sees no growth going forward for the nuclear power industry. In both its reference case, which incorporates the CPP and should, as a result, favor the construction of non-carbon emitting generation resources, and its no-CPP case, EIA comes up with the same results. Nuclear generation is expected to decline slowly from now through 2040—falling from 797 billion kilowatt-hours in 2016 to 701 billion kwh in 2040 as units are retired (either due to economic or age-related reasons) and no new reactors (save the four currently under construction in Georgia and South Carolina) are brought online. [Charts showing the generation outlook in both cases are included below; the complete EIA Outlook can be found here.]
Continue reading EIA 2017 Outlook
Shows Energy Transition
Will Trump Trump
The bright shiny package the coal industry unwrapped Christmas morning—the one it hoped was filled with rising and lasting demand for the black rock—is actually little more than a pretty box filled with empty promises delivered by the country’s new cheerleader in chief.
Just 10 years ago, coal was the clear top dog, accounting for just under 50 percent of the electricity generated annually in the U.S. (Coal’s total in 2006 was 48.9 percent, the last year it actually topped the 50 percent level was 2003.) This year, coal is likely to play second fiddle to the surging natural gas sector; the Energy Information Administration’s latest Short Term Energy Outlook (released Dec. 8) estimates that coal will account for 30.4 percent of the nation’s electric generation this year, below the 34.1 percent stake controlled by natural gas. And no amount of industry wishful thinking or presidential conceit is going to change that—the markets have changed.
Continue reading New Cheerleader In Chief Can’t Change Coal’s Fall, Rise In Gas, Renewables
The instant analysis following Donald Trump’s surprising defeat of Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 presidential election was that renewable energy would take a hit and fossil fuels would prosper. I think that is a vast over-simplification, but that is a topic for a later post. The question of the day is what will happen to the nation’s nuclear sector.
For the past several years, the Nuclear Energy Institute has worked tirelessly to broaden support for the industry by touting the technology’s importance in providing carbon-free electricity. And the industry has a valid point; the U.S.’ roughly 100 operating plants accounted for more than 60 percent of the nation’s emissions-free electric generation in 2015. According to NEI, nuclear generation avoided 564 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions last year, which it said is roughly equivalent to taking all the automobiles in the U.S. off the road.
Continue reading Trump Administration
May Be A Nightmare
For Nuclear Power
Republican rhetoric about the Obama administration’s alleged ‘war on coal’ has been heated, and frequently repeated over the past eight years—but it’s wrong. The only war against coal is being waged by market forces, in the form of plentiful and cheap natural gas, low or stagnant electric demand growth, cleaner and ever-cheaper solar and wind, and finally being forced to pay the bill for years of environmental neglect. And the market forces—those same brutally efficient and unemotional market forces that Republicans so cherish in the abstract—are winning.
The Energy Information Administration reported earlier this month that more than 80 percent of the almost 18,000 megawatts of generating capacity retired in 2015 was coal-fired. At first blush (and certainly for the conspiracy-minded) that sounds implausible. But a closer look at the numbers reveals a much different story.
All told, 94 coal-fired units were retired in 2015, and as a group they were much smaller and older than the rest of the coal fleet. Specifically, EIA says the average age of the units retired in 2015 was 54, compared to 38 years for the plants still in operation. Similarly, the retired plants had an average net summer capacity of 133 MW, compared to 278 MW for the remaining coal fleet.
The EIA graphic below does a great job of visualizing the disparity between the two classes of plants.
Continue reading Economics, Not Politics
Is The Real Problem
For U.S. Coal-Fired Fleet