Renewables v Nuclear, Spring 2017

According to a report today from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. monthly electricity generation from utility-scale renewable sources in March and again in April exceeded nuclear generation for the first time since July, 1984.

To put this in perspective, other key events in 1984 included the unveiling of the first Apple Computer, the Macintosh; the identification of the AIDS virus and the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Jaycees may be forced to admit women members.

The increase in renewables reflects both seasonal and trend growth in renewables; as well as maintenance and refueling schedules for nuclear plants (which tend to undergo maintenance during the lower-demand spring and fall months).

Nuclear generation in April this year was at its lowest monthly level since April of 2014. However, EIA’s latest Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) projects that monthly nuclear electricity generation will surpass renewables again during the summer months of 2017 and that nuclear will generate more electricity than renewables for all of 2017.

The heavy winter snows across the West this winter were also a factor, with the big melt helping push conventional hydroelectric power levels up. Hydroelectricity, the largest source of renewables in most months, reached 30 billion kilowatt hours in March, the highest in six years.

Wind and solar generation reached new record highs during the two months, thanks in part to the fact that 60 percent of all utility-scale electricity generation that came on line in 2016 was either wind or solar. Between March 2016 and March 2017, wind generation increased by 16 percent while solar increased by 65 percent. In April, solar generation continued to increase, while wind generation fell slightly. EIA’s STEO projects an increase of 8 percent and 40 percent in wind and solar utility-scale generation, respectively, in 2017.

As renewable generation has increased, net generation from nuclear power has remained relatively flat since the late 1990s. Retirements of a number of nuclear plants have resulted in a slightly lower level of overall nuclear generation capacity, and in turn, a lower level of generation.

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