Solar & Wind Provide 100% of New Capacity in September

07 Nov 2018

According to an analysis by the SUN DAY Campaign of data just released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), solar and wind were the only energy sources adding new capacity to the U.S. electricity generation mix in September. Three "units" of new wind accounted for 363-MW while nine units of solar provided 339-MW.

Wind power's share of the nation's total available  installed generating capacity is now 7.71% while that of utility-scale solar is nearing 3% (i.e., 2.91%).* Combined with biomass, geothermal, and hydropower, renewable energy sources now account for 20.76% of the nation's total installed operating generating capacity - more than double that of nuclear power (9.05%) and rapidly approaching that of coal (22.55%).** 

However, FERC's latest "Energy Infrastructure Update" (with data through September 30, 2018) also reports that for the first three-quarters of 2018, natural gas (12,110-MW) accounted for two-thirds (66.77%) of all new electrical generating capacity added this year. Solar came in second place (3,043-MW: 16.78%) and followed by wind (2,747-MW: 15.15%).

The balance of new capacity year-to-date was provided by a mix of other sources -- waste heat: 80-MW; biomass: 66-MW; hydropower: 33- MW; geothermal: 21-MW; oil: 18-MW; coal: 10-MW; "other": 5-MW; and nuclear: 4-MW.

However, notwithstanding natural gas' dominance thus far in 2018, the trend lines reported by FERC continue to strongly favor wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources.

Comparing the data in FERC's latest "Energy Infrastructure Update" with that released five years earlier, natural gas generating capacity has increased by 7.10% rising from a 41.98% share in 2013 to 43.95% in 2018. However, the generating capacity of renewable sources has grown by 35.58%, expanding its share from 15.68% to 20.76%. Wind generating capacity alone has expanded by 52.40% over the past half-decade while that of solar has mushroomed more than five-fold (i.e., by 552.31%)  

Moreover, over the next three years (i.e., through October 2021), FERC reports that -- based on "proposed generation additions and retirements" -- coal will experience a net reduction in capacity of 19,238-MW while gas will experience a net growth of 67,406-MW. Oil generating capacity will also increase by 562-MW yielding a net increase in fossil fuels' generating capacity of 48,730-MW. Net nuclear capacity will see a decline (19-MW). 

By comparison, over the same period, the net new generating capacity of renewable sources will be three to four times greater than that of fossil fuels and nuclear power: 167,259-MW (wind: 89,830-MW, solar: 61,621-MW, hydropower: 14,263-MW, geothermal: 1,076-MW, and biomass: 469-MW).  

In fact, over the past nine months since the release of its "Energy Infrastructure Update" for January 2018,  FERC has dramatically revised down its projections for "proposed" net new fossil fuel and nuclear power capacity while significantly increasing those for renewables. Comparing FERC's January and September data, net coal retirements are listed as increasing from 14,036-MW to 19,238-MW while net natural gas additions have been reduced from 82,719-MW to 67,406-MW. For nuclear power, instead of a net increase of 1,754-MW, FERC now lists a net loss of 19-MW.

On the other hand, new data for renewable sources reflects 167,259-MW in net additions compared to the earlier forecast of 145,681-MW -- an increase of almost 15% (i.e., 14.81%) in just nine months. Proposed net additions for wind have increased from 83,366-MW to 89,830- MW while those for solar have risen from 47,946-MW to 61,621-MW.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission |

* FERC only reports data for utility-scale facilities (i.e., those rated 1-MW or greater) and therefore its data does not reflect the capacity of distributed renewables, notably rooftop solar PV which accounts for approximately 30% of the nation's installed solar capacity. 

** Capacity is not the same as actual generation. Capacity factors for nuclear power and fossil fuels tend to be higher than those for most renewables. For the first two-thirds of 2018, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that renewables accounted for more than 18% of the nation's total electrical generation - that is, a bit less than their share of installed generating capacity.