Wind power is on track to surpass hydropower as the U.S. grid’s largest source of renewable electricity in 2019, according to Energy Information Administration data.
Hydro had a century-long head start, and plants like the 2,000-megawatt Hoover Dam and 6,800-megawatt Grand Coulee Dam still outsize any other generating stations. However, the country has added virtually no new hydro capacity over the last 20 years, due to the difficulty of siting and building new plants in a system of modern environmental protections, while the steady opening of new wind farms changed the playing field.
Hydropower will maintain a constant share of utility-scale generation, but the other old stalwart, coal, will drop from 28 percent to 24 percent of generation in 2020. Natural gas picks up some of that slack, rising from 35 to 37 percent, while non-hydro renewables rise from 10 to 13 percent of electricity generation.
That puts renewable generation at a full one-fifth of U.S. electricity generation in 2020.
Wind additions will bring installed capacity from 96 gigawatts to 107 gigawatts by the end of the year, with another 7 gigawatts coming in 2020, the EIA forecasts.
Solar development will add 5 gigawatts in 2019 and 6 gigawatts in 2020. Small-scale solar will contribute an additional 9 gigawatts in that time.
Wind development has taken place onshore, with the exception of the five-turbine Block Island project in Rhode Island. The impending arrival of large-scale offshore development on the Atlantic Coast could spark an even greater surge in wind capacity.
Massachusetts and Rhode Island awarded 1,200 megawatts of offshore wind capacity in May. Maryland approved 368 megawatts of offshore in 2017. Virginia, New York and New Jersey are also getting in on the action.
That flurry of activity led the wind analysts at MAKE Consulting, now a part of Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, to more than double their offshore wind outlook last year, projecting a 5.3-gigawatt market by 2026.
Just last week the Rhodium Group published findings that U.S. carbon emissions from energy rose in 2018 after a long streak of declines.
After that setback for climate change efforts, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions will decline by 1.2 percent in 2019, the EIA predicts. The report attributes that decline to more normal seasonal weather than the extreme winter and summer of 2018, as well as the incrementally cleaner fuel mix for generation.
That's still less than the annual 3.3 percent decline over the next two years needed for the U.S. to fulfill its international climate targets, according to Rhodium's analysis.