Solar and wind energy could make up 17 percent of installed capacity by 2020

Nevada solar utility

In the latest issue of its Energy Infrastructure Update (with data through November 30, 2017), the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) notes that proposed net additions to generating capacity by utility-scale wind and solar could total 115,984 megawatts (MW) by December 2020 – effectively doubling their current installed capacity of 115,520 MW.

At the same time, the FERC report suggests that coal might experience a net decline of 18,723 MW (equivalent to 6.60% of current capacity) while nuclear power drops by 2,342 MW (equivalent to 2.16% of current capacity).

The numbers were released as FERC prepares for a January 10 meeting to consider U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s proposal for a bail out of the coal and nuclear industries.

Renewables leading the way

FERC’s data also outlines the retirement of 10,803 MW of natural gas capacity by the end of 2020 but offset by the potential addition of 92,489 MW for a net gain of 81,686 MW — an amount that would increase current natural gas capacity by 15.82%. Oil generating capacity would remain largely unchanged with retirements of 571 MW and additions of 762 MW.

Renewable sources, however, could see the largest increase in their share of the nation’s total installed generating capacity through December 2020.

Proposed additions for wind total 72,526 MW with only 68 MW of retired capacity while solar could add 43,528 MW and experience just 2 MW of retirements. Hydropower, while retiring 706 MW, would grow by 12,732 MW. Biomass might add 945 MW and retire 47 MW while geothermal could expand by 1,610 MW without any retirements. In total, proposed net generation additions for the mix of renewable sources totals 130,518 MW.

Four trends leading ground-mounted solar in 2018 from IHS Markit

Should the proposed generation additions and retirements prove accurate, within three years, the mix of renewables would account for more than a quarter (26.57%) of the nation’s installed generating capacity – up from one-fifth (19.91%) today. Solar and wind combined would equal nearly 17 percent (16.74%) of capacity by December 2020.

“FERC’s data probably should not be interpreted as being a forecast or prediction,” noted Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “Rather, it is better viewed as a confirmation of recent trends – rapid growth by solar, wind, and natural gas accompanied by more modest gains by hydropower, geothermal, and biomass while coal and nuclear power experience sharp declines.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar Dominates Energy Generation

KDC Solar Panel SystemFor the ninth time in the past 11 months, solar and wind energy dominated the new U.S. electrical generating capacity.

In it’s latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” report (with data through Nov. 30, 2014), the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Office of Energy Projects, states that wind energy and solar power combined provided more than 70 percent of the 873 megawatts (MW) of new U.S. electrical generating capacity placed into service in November 2014.

Fourteen new “units” of solar came on line for a total of 294-MW of capacity, led by MidAmerican Renewables LLC’s 250-MW Topaz Solar Farms expansion in California.

Also, three wind farms came on line last month, accounting for 333-MW of new generation in service. These included Stella Wind Farm’s 182-MW Panhandle Wind Farm Phase II expansion in Texas and the 150-MW Origin Wind Energy project in Oklahoma. New wind generating capacity this year thus far has more than doubled that for the same period in 2013 (2,525-MW vs. 1,112-MW).

“With only one month left in 2014, it has become a horse race between natural gas and renewable energy as to which will dominate new electrical generation for the year,” noted Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “Regardless of the winner, it is apparent that coal, oil, and nuclear will be left behind in the dust.”

Just a single new unit of natural gas came on-line last month — Wisconsin Electric Power Co’s 140-MW Valley Power Plant Unit 1 Repowering Project, as well as the first and only coal plant to come into service so far in 2014 — Great River Energy’s 106-MW lignite-fueled Spiritwood Station project in North Dakota.

For the ninth time in the past eleven months, renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) accounted for the majority of new U.S. electrical generation brought into service. Natural gas took the lead in April and August.

Renewable energy sources now account for 16.44 percent of total installed operating generating capacity in the U.S.: water – 8.43 percent, wind – 5.42 percent, biomass – 1.38 percent, solar – 0.88 percent, and geothermal steam – 0.33 percent. Renewable energy capacity is now greater than that of nuclear (9.22 percent) and oil (3.97 percent) combined. (See footnote at end)
Of the 10,926-MW of new generating capacity from all sources installed since Jan. 1, 2014, 39 units of wind accounted for 2,525-MW (23.11 percent), followed by 235 units of solar – 2,203-MW (20.16 percent), 49 units of biomass – 282-MW (2.58 percent), 7 units of hydropower – 141-MW (1.29 percent), and 5 units of geothermal – 32-MW (0.29 percent). In total, renewables have provided 47.43 percent of new U.S. electrical generating capacity thus far in 2014.

The balance came from 46 units of natural gas – 5,513-MW (50.46 percent), 1 unit of coal – 106-MW(0.97 percent), 1 unit of nuclear – 71-MW (0.65 percent), 15 units of oil – 47-MW (0.43 percent), and 6 units of “other” – 7-MW (0.06 percent). Thus, new capacity from renewable energy sources in 2014 is 49 times that from coal, 73 times that from nuclear, and 110 times that from oil.

Note: Generating capacity is not the same as actual generation. Generation per MW of capacity (i.e., capacity factor) for renewables is often lower than that for fossil fuels and nuclear power. According to the most recent data (as of September 2014) provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, actual net electrical generation from renewable energy sources now totals a bit more than 13 percent of total U.S. electrical production; however, this figure almost certainly understates renewables’ actual contribution significantly because EIA does not fully account for all electricity generated by distributed renewable energy sources (e.g., rooftop solar).

— Solar Builder magazine