Coal will account for 85% of U.S. electric generating capacity retirements in 2022
Operators have scheduled 14.9 gigawatts (GW) of electric generating capacity to retire in the United States during 2022, according to our latest inventory of electric generators. The majority of the scheduled retirements are coal-fired power plants (85%), followed by natural gas (8%) and nuclear (5%).
Coal. After substantial retirements of U.S. coal-fired electric generating capacity from 2015 to 2020 that averaged 11.0 GW a year, coal capacity retirements slowed to 4.6 GW in 2021. However, we expect retirement of coal-fired generators to increase again this year; 12.6 GW of coal capacity is scheduled to retire in 2022, or 6% of the coal-fired generating capacity that was operating at the end of 2021.
Most of the plants making up the operating U.S. coal fleet were built in the 1970s and 1980s. U.S. coal plants are retiring as the coal fleet ages and as coal-fired generators face increasing competition from natural gas and renewables.
The largest coal power plant planning to retire in 2022 is the 1,305-megawatt (MW) William H. Zimmer plant in Ohio. Morgantown Generating Station in Maryland plans to retire its two coal-fired units (1,205 MW combined) in June, followed by two of the plant’s six smaller petroleum-fired units in September.
Solar power will account for nearly half of new U.S. electric generating capacity in 2022
In 2022, we expect 46.1 gigawatts (GW) of new utility-scale electric generating capacity to be added to the U.S. power grid, according to our Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory. Almost half of the planned 2022 capacity additions are solar, followed by natural gas at 21% and wind at 17%.
Developers and power plant owners report planned additions to us in our annual and monthly electric generator surveys. In the annual survey, we ask respondents to provide planned online dates for generators coming online in the next five years. The monthly survey tracks the status of generators coming online based on reported in-service dates.
Solar. We expect U.S. utility-scale solar generating capacity to grow by 21.5 GW in 2022. This planned new capacity would surpass last year’s 15.5 GW of solar capacity additions, an estimate based on reported additions through October (8.7 GW) and additions scheduled for the last two months of 2021 (6.9 GW). Most planned solar additions in 2022 will be in Texas (6.1 GW, or 28% of the national total), followed by California (4.0 GW).
Not all generating capacities are created equal. No power plant can constantly operate at 100% of it’s nameplate capacity. All power plants require maintenance. The theoretical capacity factor is the percentage of the generating capacity a power plant can deliver at a 100% utilization rate. The realized capacity factor is driven by the utilization rate. Nuclear power plants generally have a 95% theoretical capacity factor and nearly 100% utilization rates. Therefore, their realized capacity factors are usually >90%. Solar and wind power plants also have nearly 100% utilization rates; however they have very low theoretical capacity factors because they are time of day and weather-dependent.
The theoretical capacity factor of coal-fired power plants is about 85%. The realized capacity factor is variable and tied to the price of natural gas. The higher natural gas prices go, the greater the utilization rate of coal-fired power plants.
The EIA forecasts that natural prices will average around $4/mmBTU in 2022.
The average capacity factor of coal-fired power plants will probably be in the range of 55-60% in 2022.
Utility scale solar PV power plants achieve an average capacity factor of 25%.
The theoretical output of 14.9 GW of coal-fired capacity is greater than the average achieved capacity factor of solar PV. And the actual output of solar PV is generally the maximum achievable output.
Bear in mind that the coal-fired power plants can run 24/7/365… including nights and cloudy days. Even using the anticipated capacity factors with a $4/mmBTU natural gas price, the soon to be retired 14.9 GW of coal-fired capacity would have generated 71-78% of the electricity as the 46.1 GW of solar PV will.
To make matters worse, solar power tends to deliver its maximum output when demand is at its lowest. The Southwest region includes Arizona, southern Nevada and most of New Mexico. Nuclear and coal-fired power plants provide about 2/3 of very steady baseload. Natural gas provides most of the rest of the baseload and ramps up during peak demand hours (8-9 AM and 7-9 PM). Solar power ramps up as demand falls off from mid-morning to mid-afternoon.
When you replace dependable, 24/7/365 base load with this:
SOURCE: WHATSUP WITH THAT