Solar Generating Capacity Now Exceeds Nuclear Power & Hydropower While Its Electrical Output Expanded by >20% in January

A review by the SUN DAY Campaign of data recently released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) confirms that 2024 has begun with strong growth by solar in both capacity additions and electrical generation. This is projected to continue for at least the next 2-3 years. 

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

In its latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” (with data through January 31, 2024), FERC reports that solar accounted for 2,527 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity in the first month of this year – or 87.3% of the total. That is the second highest monthly total ever reported for solar, behind only the prior month when 4,979-MW were added.

The new solar capacity reported for January was accompanied by 320-MW of new wind capacity as well as 44-MW of natural gas, 2-MW of oil, and 3-MW classified as “other.” Thus, renewable sources accounted for 98.3% of capacity additions in January.

The new solar and wind brought the total available installed generating capacity of renewable energy sources (i.e., also including hydropower, biomass, and geothermal) up to 376.33 gigawatts (GW) or 29.17% of all U.S. generating capacity. That is more than the installed capacity of either coal (207.15-GW) or nuclear power (103.27-GW). [1]

In fact, installed utility-scale solar capacity (104.61-GW) alone now exceeds that of not only nuclear power but also hydropower (101.41-GW) … and that does not include the additional capacity of small-scale, distributed solar (e.g., rooftop systems) which accounts for more than 30% of all solar. [2]

Moreover, FERC suggests that utility-scale solar capacity should also exceed that of wind within the next 2-3 years. Between February 2024 and January 2027, FERC anticipates net “high probability” additions of solar (i.e., additions minus retirements) to total 85,419-MW. Further, there may be as much as 218,646-MW of new solar in the three-year pipeline.

FERC also expects 24,443-MW of net new wind additions plus 561-MW of net new hydropower and 400-MW of net new geothermal. On the other hand, installed capacity of coal would plummet by 22,240-MW while that of natural gas and oil would fall by 3,131-MW and 2,051-MW respectively. Biomass capacity would also decrease by 68-MW while the new Vogtle-4 nuclear reactor nearing completion in Georgia would add 1,100-MW.

The net result of just the net “high probability” additions is that by early 2027, solar would account for 13.83% of total available installed generating capacity while wind would be 12.79%. Taken together, all renewables would provide 35.45% of the total – approaching that of natural gas (40.88%) and substantially surpassing that of coal (13.45%), nuclear power (7.60%), and oil (2.48%) combined. 

Energy Information Administration

In its latest monthly "Electric Power Monthly" report (with data through January 31, 2024), EIA says the combination of utility-scale and small-scale (e.g., rooftop) solar increased by 20.5% compared to the first month of last year. As a result, solar’s share of total U.S. electrical generation in January 2024 rose to 3.8% compared to 3.4% a year earlier.

However, the electrical output of other renewable energy sources fell: geothermal by 12.2%, wind by 10.8%, biomass by 7.1%, and hydropower by 4.7%. Taken together, electrical generation by all renewable sources was 4.2% lower than last January and renewables’ share of total generation fell from 22.6% in January 2023 to 19.8% in January 2024.

Nonetheless, electrical generation by the mix of renewables, including small-scale solar, still out-performed coal by 0.7% and surpassed nuclear power by 10.2%.

Notwithstanding the lower renewable energy numbers for January, EIA still anticipates significant growth in electrical generation by renewables this year and next.

In its latest “Short-Term Energy Outlook,” EIA foresees the mix of utility-scale renewables to increase their share of total U.S. electrical generation from 21.1% in 2023 to 23.2% in 2024 and then to 25.2% in 2025. Solar alone would expand by 76.1% between 2023 and 2025 while electrical generation by wind would increase by 8.9%. The generating capacities of solar and wind would grow by similar amounts. EIA also expects electrical output by hydropower, geothermal, and biomass combined to rebound this year.

"The rapid growth by solar in both capacity additions and electrical generation shows no signs of stopping or slowing down," noted Ken Bossong, Executive Director the SUN DAY Campaign. “Despite a slow start in January, the mix of all renewables seem poised to continue expanding its share of U.S. electrical generation and generating capacity this year and beyond.”

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission |

[1] Generating capacity is not the same as actual generation. Fossil fuels and nuclear power generally have higher "capacity factors" than do wind and solar. For example, EIA reports capacity factors in 2023 for nuclear power and natural gas were 93.1% and 58.8% respectively while those for wind and solar were 33.5% and 23.3%.

[2] In its “Electric Power Monthly” report, EIA refers to small-scale or distributed solar as “Estimated Small Scale Solar Photovoltaic.” Unless otherwise indicated, all calculations presented in this release assume the inclusion of electrical generation by small-scale solar which EIA estimates to have totaled 4,782 gigawatthours (GWh) in January 2024. That is 33.1% of total solar generation for the month.