‹ Analysis & Projections

AEO2012 Early Release Overview

Release Date: January 23, 2012   |  Full Report Release Date: June 2012   |   Report Number: DOE/EIA-0383ER(2012)

Electricity Generation

Total electricity consumption, including both purchases from electric power producers and on-site generation, grows from 3,879 billion kilowatthours in 2010 to 4,775 billion kilowatthours in 2035 in the AEO2012 Reference case, increasing at an average annual rate of 0.8 percent, about the same rate as in the AEO2011 Reference case.

The combination of slow growth in electricity demand, competitively priced natural gas, programs encouraging renewable fuel use, and the implementation of new environmental rules dampens coal use in the future. The AEO2012 Reference case includes the impacts of the CSAPR, which was finalized in July 2011 and was not represented in the AEO2011 Reference case. CSAPR requires reductions in SO2 and NOX emissions in roughly one-half of the States, with an initial target in 2012 and further reductions in 2014. Even so, coal remains the dominant energy source for electricity generation, but its share of total generation declines from 45 percent in 2010 to 39 percent in 2035 (see Figure 3 on page 2). Market concerns about GHG emissions continue to slow the expansion of coal-fired capacity in the AEO2012 Reference case, even under current laws and policies. Low projected fuel prices for new natural gas-fired plants also affect the relative economics of coal-fired capacity, as does the continued rise in construction costs for new coal-fired power plants. As retirements outpace new additions, total coal-fired generating capacity falls from 318 gigawatts in 2010 to 301 gigawatts in 2035 in the AEO2012 Reference case.

Electricity generation using natural gas is higher in the AEO2012 Reference case than was projected in the AEO2011 Reference case, particularly over the next 10 years, during which natural gas prices are expected to remain low. New natural gas-fired plants also are much cheaper to build than new renewable or nuclear plants. In 2015, natural gas-fired generation in AEO2012 is 13 percent higher than in AEO2011, and in 2035 it is still 6 percent higher.

Electricity generation from nuclear power plants grows by 11 percent in the AEO2012 Reference case, from 807 billion kilowatthours in 2010 to 894 billion kilowatthours in 2035, accounting for about 18 percent of total generation in 2035 (compared with 20 percent in 2010). Nuclear generating capacity increases from 101 gigawatts in 2010 to a high of 115 gigawatts in 2025, after which a few retirements result in a decline to 112 gigawatts in 2035. AEO2012 incorporates new information about planned nuclear plant construction, as well as an updated estimate of the potential for capacity uprates at existing units. A total of 10 gigawatts of new nuclear capacity is projected through 2035, as well as an increase of 7 gigawatts achieved from uprates to existing nuclear units. About 6 gigawatts of existing nuclear capacity is retired, primarily in the last few years of the projection, as not all owners of existing nuclear capacity apply for and receive license renewals to operate their plants beyond 60 years.

Increased generation from renewable energy in the electric power sector, excluding hydropower, accounts for 33 percent of the overall growth in electricity generation from 2010 to 2035. Generation from renewable resources grows in response to Federal tax credits, State-level policies, and Federal requirements to use more biomass-based transportation fuels, some of which can produce electricity as a byproduct of the production process. Near-term market growth in some sectors, such as solar energy, is projected to result in significantly reduced costs in the AEO2012 Reference case, increasing the projected growth for those resources as compared with the AEO2011 projections. More retirements of coal-fired capacity are expected in the AEO2012 Reference case than were projected in AEO2011 because of slower growth in electricity demand, continued competition from natural gas and renewable plants, and the need to comply with new environmental regulations. Growth in renewable generation is supported by many State requirements, as well as new regulations on CO2 emissions in California. The share of U.S. electricity generation coming from renewable fuels (including conventional hydropower) grows from 10 percent in 2010 to 16 percent in 2035. In the AEO2012 Reference case, Federal subsidies for renewable generation are assumed to expire as enacted. Extensions of such subsidies could have a large impact on renewable generation.