Federal energy officials have made their first forecasts for 2019, and they expect to see modest growth in the nation's electricity consumption, with a record set for renewables.
In its latest Short-Term Energy Outlook
, the Energy Information Administration predicts a 1.3 percent consumption increase this year, followed by a rise of just 0.5 percent in 2019.
History is expected to be made, with non-hydro renewable energy sources forecast to supply more than 10 percent of the nation's annual average total generation in 2019. It will be the first time on record that's happened, EIA said in its Jan. 9 report.
EIA expects the price of natural gas for electricity generation will be lower this year than last and will fall even more in 2019. Natural gas should account for 33 percent of generation this year and 34 percent next year, the report said.
Those lower natural gas prices, combined with retirements of coal-fired plants, will have an impact on coal's role. Coal supplied about 30 percent of America's electricity generation in 2016 and 2017, but EIA expects it will fall to slightly below 30 percent this year and 28 percent next year. Plant operators are telling EIA they plan to retire 13 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity in 2018.
Next year's scheduled retirement of reactors at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island and the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Massachusetts will have an impact on nuclear's share of generation. EIA expects nuclear will account for 19 percent of generation in 2019, down from the 20 percent seen in 2017 and expected again this year.
In other developments, EIA said December's spot price for benchmark North Sea Brent crude oil was the highest monthly average since November 2014. It climbed nearly $2 per barrel from November, to average $64 per barrel.
And drivers will be digging deeper. "EIA expects the retail price of regular gasoline to average $2.51 per gallon during the first quarter of 2018," up 19 cents from the same time last year, "primarily reflecting higher crude oil prices," the report said. EIA sees prices peaking at $2.63 in August, for a 2018 average of $2.57. It's forecasting a $2.58 average in 2019.