The United States consumes 4 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity. That's enough electricity to supply 400 million homes, assuming a home uses 10,000 kilowatt-hours.
To understate, America uses a lot of electricity right now, but our appetite for electricity grows.
Electricity consumption is projected to increase about 1% per year during the next 10 years or by about 40 billion kilowatt-hours per year. And that 1% rate of increase is substantially lower than the historic rate of electricity load growth. Just the annual increase in electricity consumption is equal to adding 4 million homes each year.
So can new wind and solar power supply the annual electricity load growth of the USA?
During the last 5 years, wind has often increased its production by 20 billion kilowatt-hours annually and will increase its production by 30 billion kilowatt-hours this year, as a result of the record building boom of more than 12,000 megawatts of new wind capacity in 2012. As for solar, solar production in 2013 will increase approximately 7 billion kilowatt-hours in 2013, reaching more than 11 billion kilowatt-hours.
The combined increase in solar and wind generation during 2013 will be 35-40 billion kilowatt-hours or essentially equal to a 1% increase in electricity generation nationwide. Wind and solar, indeed, can meet the annual 1% increase in electricity consumption expected in the USA over the next 10 years. But it will not be easy.
Wind is not likely to boost its production every year by 30 billion kilowatt-hours. A more reasonable expectation would be around 20-25 billion kilowatt-hours each year for new wind production.
The annual ramp up in solar production, however, is in its early stages. By 2016, it is reasonable to expect that solar will boost production by 15 billion kilowatt-hours per year and even more thereafter.
Wind and solar together can indeed meet the 1% annual load growth of electricity consumption in the USA and that is a very big deal. One result is that the electricity sector's carbon emissions will not increase during the next 10 years. On the other hand, wind and solar increased production is not likely to be big enough to cut the existing carbon emissions from the electricity sector.
Like it or not, cuts in the existing carbon emissions from the electricity sector will happen or not, during the next 5 to 10 years, depending on the market shares of coal and gas generation.