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US renewable generation surpassed coal for the first time in 2022, nuclear second time


One of the largest US wind farms came online in Okla.

Utility-scale solar jumped 10 GW capacity in 2022

  • Author
  • Kassia Micek    Morgan Snook
  • Editor
  • Gary Gentile
  • Commodity
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US renewable power generation surpassed coal-fired generation for the first time in 2022 and surpassed nuclear generation for the second time, as wind and solar capacity climbed, the US Energy Information Administration announced March 27.

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Combined renewables, including wind, solar, hydro, biomass and geothermal, provided 21% of the 4.09 GWh of electric power produced last year across the US, compared to 19% in 2021, according to the EIA. At the same time, coal-fired generation's share slipped from 23% in 2021 to 20% in 2022 as a number of coal-fired power plants retired and the remaining plants were used less.

The drop in 2022 coal generation coincides with record high utility coal prices amid Russia's war in Ukraine. Increased European demand for US coal sent export prices soaring, which had a knock-on effect for US utility coals that also supply seaborne markets.

Illinois Basin coal, for example, supplies both domestic and export markets: the coal is barged south via the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. Illinois Basin barge coal prices more than doubled on the year in 2022 amid geopolitical conflict. According to the Platts assessment by S&P Global Commodity Insights, prompt-month ILB 11,500 Btu/lb prices averaged $60.06/st in 2021 and $149.29/st in 2022. Domestic ILB prices set an all-time high Sept. 7 at $202.65/st.

In a similar fashion, Central Appalachia coal – which supplies both domestic and export markets – set a record spot price in September 2022 as generators looked ahead to an uncertain winter. CAPP 12,500 Btu/lb CSX rail coal was assessed at an all-time high $205/st Sept. 6, according to data from S&P Global. The coal averaged $157.57/st in 2022, up from $69.30/st in 2021.

Renewable growth

"Growth in wind and solar generating capacity drove the increase in wind and solar generation," according to EIA in the March 27 statement.

Utility-scale solar capacity in the US electric power sector increased from 61 GW in 2021 to 71 GW in 2022, according to data from EIA's Electricity Power Monthly. At the same time, wind capacity grew from 133 GW in 2021 to 141 GW in 2022.

The combined share of wind and solar increased from 12% in 2021 to 14% in 2022, according to the EIA. Hydropower generation, as well as biomass and geothermal sources, was unchanged year on year at 6% and less than 1%, respectively.

Wind and solar leaders

Texas leads the nation in wind-generated power, making up 26% of total US wind generation last year, followed by Iowa with 10% and Oklahoma with 9%, according to the EIA.

"One of the largest wind farms in the United States (nearly 1,000 MW capacity) came online in Oklahoma in 2022," the EIA said.

In the Southwest Power Pool, wind generation led market share in 2022 for a second time. In 2020, SPP became the first grid operator in the US to have wind at the top of its generation stack. Before that, coal was always the lead fuel source.

When it comes to utility-scale solar generation, California leads the nation, producing 26% of the country's utility-scale solar electricity, according to the EIA. Texas came in second with 16%, followed by North Carolina with 8%.

"Several of the largest solar plants built in the United States in the last three years are located in Texas, including the 275 MW Noble solar plant, which started operations in 2022," the EIA said.

Gas is king

The largest source of US electricity generation continued to be natural gas, which increased from a 37% share of the generation in 2021 to 39% in 2022, according to the EIA. Meanwhile, the share of nuclear generation eased from 20% in 2021 to 19% in 2022, following the Palisades nuclear power plant's retirement in May 2022.

Earlier this month, the EIA's Short-Term Energy Outlook forecast the natural gas share of the US generation mix would remain unchanged from last year at 39%, as the coal share of generation is forecast to decline to 17% in 2023. In addition, wind's share of the mix would increase to 12% in 2023, while the solar share will grow to 5% this year.

EIA noted the electric power sector includes electric utilities and independent power producers. It does not include generators in the industrial, commercial, or residential sectors, such as rooftop solar panels installed on homes or businesses or some combined-heat-and-power systems.