NEXTracker CEO challenges solar projections from Energy Information Administration

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Projections of solar capacity additions published by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) are “way too low,” said NEXTracker CEO Dan Shugar, in light of NEXTracker’s “actual delivery metrics to our U.S.A. customer projects.” He made the comments in a LinkedIn post.

“EIA’s projections greatly underestimate the growth of solar and significantly overestimate coal’s persistence in the energy mix,” he added in a pv magazine interview.

As for solar, EIA’s reference case projects the U.S. will add an average of 15 GW of solar per year through 2030, as shown in yellow in the image below. The Solar Energy Industries Association’s “Solar+ Decade Roadmap” issued last fall begins with 15 GW of solar added in 2020, but foresees 18% annual growth in installations, reaching nearly 80 GW of solar added in 2030:

SEIA’s goal does not reflect a technical limit, as a global team of scientists has described how to sustain a 30% growth rate in solar deployments.

As for coal, EIA projects that coal generation will be little changed through 2050, across all three scenarios for renewable energy cost reductions, with coal generation shown by the gray line, which is near the bottom and relatively flat after 2019:

In response to Dan Shugar’s comments about the growth of solar and coal’s persistence in EIA’s projections, EIA’s Renewable Electricity Analysis Team Leader Chris Namovicz noted that the agency’s $15 and $35 carbon fee cases show “a virtual end to coal generation” by 2050. As for “underestimating” solar growth, he quoted what he said was a common agency saying, that “there are no facts about the future,” and noted that EIA’s $35 carbon fee scenario shows about a 10-fold increase in solar by 2050. The carbon fee scenarios are described in a supplement to EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook.

Federal policy makers use EIA’s reference case projections as a “yardstick,” said Namovicz, “to identify areas where current laws may not be having a desired impact on the market,” and “to measure the impact of policy proposals, which we are occasionally asked to do by Congress.” Senior Scientist Ryan Wiser at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory concurred, saying that “knowing how much of different generation types might deploy even absent strong policy levers helps inform policy decisions about those policy levers.”

Beyond EIA’s reference case projection, which shows renewables providing 38% of generation in 2050, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory shows 59% renewable generation by 2050, in its Standard Scenarios report, while Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects 43% renewable generation by 2050—according to data that Wiser compiled in a draft presentation that he made available to pv magazine.