"Natural gas, wind, and some solar generation are projected to be the primary source of new generating resources being integrated into the bulk power system during the assessment period," so says the North American Reliability Council, in its 2011 Long-term Reliability Assessment at page 18. See http://www.nerc.com/.
The foregoing sentence is extraordinary. Anyone who would have said such a thing just 4 years ago would have been at risk of being judged to be mad. Yet, it comes from NERC, the official, top grid reliability cop that is inherently careful, cautious in its annual forecasts. It must be, because its job is to make sure that the lights stay on.
I am still pinching myself and re-reading the sentence. The most extraordinary part of the sentence is the inclusion of solar. NERC sees solar generation in the next 10 years to be among the primary sources of new generation. That is a powerful example of solar revolution in motion. And I will say that NERC (like nearly everyone) is currently underestimating the size of the coming solar resource in North America, where 2,200 megawatts of solar will be installed just in 2011.
NERC goes onto to say: "Two unprecedented resource-mix evolutions are beginning to take place. Gas-fired generation replacing coal-fired generation [and] large increases in renewable, variable generation capacity."
In fact NERC is projecting that NERC-wide geneation will increase by 90,000 megawatts over 10 years and that renewables will provide about 50% of that increase and gas about 40% of the increase. More than 90,000 megawatts of new generation will be built, as new generation will be needed to replace plants that close as well as to meet rising demand.
NERC's 2011 Long-Term Forecast also shows the power of demand response and energy efficiency measures to defer new generation. Just last year, NERC projected that 130,000 megawatts of new generation would be built over a 10 year period. NERC this year has lowered again the projected internal peak demand, largely because of increasing demand-side measures, and cut to 90,000 megawatts the amount of increased generation.
Renewables and natural gas are booming together, and NERC sees their domination growing over the next 10 years. Big change indeed.