Federal energy officials are forecasting the fastest growth rate for renewable energy in four years while growth slows for natural gas-fired generation, according to their latest outlook.

Generation from natural gas-fired power plants will rise by 1.3% this year, the slowest growth rate since 2017, the Energy Information Administration said in its “Short-Term Energy Outlook” released Jan. 14.

At the same time, the EIA expects generation from renewable energy sources, excluding hydropower, to grow by 15% in 2020.

“Generating capacity fueled by renewable energy sources, especially solar and wind, has increased steadily in recent years,” EIA said. 

The agency expects that the U.S. electric power sector will add 19.3 gigawatts of new utility-scale solar capacity in 2019 and 2020, a 65% increase from 2018 capacity levels. Wind capacity will grow by 30 GW (32%) in 2019 and 2020.

“Much of this new [renewable] capacity comes online at the end of the year, which affects generation trends in the following year,” the report said.

Coal’s share of electric generation is expected to drop from 24% in 2019 to 21% in 2020 and 2021. At the same time, the EIA expects natural gas generation to increase to 38% in 2021 and then to remain stable.

Coal production will continue to fall through 2021, the report said. In 2020, U.S. coal production will total 597 million short tons (MMst), down 93 MMst (14%) from 2019. In 2021, production is expected to fall by 16 MMst (3%).