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EIA revises down 2020 generation estimates for natural gas, coal

The Energy Information Administration in its latest monthly short-term energy outlook, or STEO, amended slightly its expectations for the amount of electricity that will be generated in the U.S. by coal- and natural gas-fired power plants in 2020.

Coal-fired generation was anticipated to form 22% of U.S. utility-scale generation in 2020 in the December 2019 STEO, but the January STEO now anticipates coal amounting to 21% of the total in 2020 and "slightly less than that" in 2021.

The agency now foresees natural gas-fired power plants comprising 38% of total domestic utility-scale electricity generation in 2020, compared to its December 2019 estimation of 39%. Natural gas-fired plants are expected to make up 37% of the country's utility-scale generation in 2021.

"Increasing competition from renewables will cause the natural gas share in U.S. electricity to remain stable at about 37% to 38% through 2021," said EIA Administrator Linda Capuano in a statement.

Expectations for nonhydropower renewables such as wind and solar held steady at 12% of generation in 2020. The EIA maintained its hydropower forecast of an about 7% share of total U.S. generation for 2020, while generation estimates for nuclear for the same year held at about 20%.

According to a forecast comparison chart, the January forecast for retail electricity sales in 2020 was just slightly above what was predicted in the December 2019 STEO. In the second and fourth quarters, sales are now expected to be 0.2% higher than previously predicted, at 878 billion kWh and 885 billion kWh, respectively. Third-quarter sales estimates rose by 0.1% to 1,053 billion kWh, while forecasts for the first quarter remained unchanged.

In recent outlooks, the agency has repeatedly revised its estimates for carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. In the November 2019 outlook, the EIA said those emissions had declined by 1.7% in the 2018-2019 period. However, in the December 2019 STEO, those estimates were revised to a 1.4% decline, and the latest outlook now estimates a 2.1% decline for the 2018-2019 period.

For the 2019-2020 period, the agency had predicted in November 2019 that those emissions would decline by 2.1% but revised that estimate in December 2019 to 2.2%. The January outlook now anticipates a 2% drop.

Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels could drop by 1.5% during the 2020-2021 period, according to the agency.

"The decline in emissions reflects a forecast of slowing GDP growth and less weather-related demand, resulting in lower total U.S. energy consumption," said Capuano.