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Wind surpasses hydro for electricity generation in US

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Energy Global,

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) Electric Power Monthly US annual wind generation totalled 300 million MWh in 2019, exceeding hydroelectric generation for the first time in 2019 by 26 million MWh. Wind is now the top renewable source of electricity generation in the country, a position previously held by hydroelectricity.

The EIA has reported that wind generation has increased steadily during the past decade, in part, because the Production Tax Credit (PTC), which drove wind capacity additions, was extended. Annual hydroelectric generation has fluctuated between 250 million MWh and 320 million MWh in the past decade, reflecting a stable capacity base and variable annual precipitation.

Annual changes in hydroelectric generation are primarily the result of variations in annual precipitation patterns and water runoff, the EIA has stated. Although weather patterns also affect wind generation in different regions, capacity growth has been the predominant driver of annual changes in wind generation.

According to the EIA, both hydroelectric and wind generation follow seasonal patterns. Hydroelectric generation is typically greatest in the spring when precipitation and melting snowpack increase water runoff. Seasonal patterns in wind generation vary across the country, but wind generation is usually greatest in Spring and Autumn.

The EIA has reported that wind capacity additions tend to come online during 4Q of the year, most likely because of tax benefits. Wind capacity additions totalled 10 GW in 2019 (3.8 GW installed in 4Q2019), making 2019 the second-largest year for wind capacity additions, second only to 2012.

As of the end of 2019, the US had 103 GW of wind capacity, of which 77% was installed in the past decade, the EIA has stated. The US has 80 GW of hydroelectric capacity, most of which has been operating for several decades. Only 2 GW of hydroelectric capacity has been added in the past decade, and some of those additions involved converting previously nonpowered dams.

According to the EIA, although total installed wind capacity surpassed total installed hydroelectric capacity in 2016, it wasn't until 2019 that wind generation surpassed hydroelectric generation. The average annual capacity factors for the hydroelectric fleet between 2009 and 2019 ranged from 35% to 43%. The average annual capacity factors for the US wind fleet were lower, ranging from 28% to 35%. Capacity factors are the ratio of the electrical energy produced by a generating unit for a specified period of time to the electrical energy that could have been produced at continuous full power operation during the same period.

The EIA report can be accessed here.

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