Renewable energy sources have dominated new U.S. electrical generating capacity additions in the first eight months of 2020, according to a review of data just released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) by the SUN DAY Campaign. We’re talking 63.3% or 10,445 MW of the 16,499 MW of new utility-scale capacity added during the first two-thirds of this year was solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and hydropower.
Drilling down further, all of the 2,781 MW of new generating capacity added this summer (i.e., June, July, August) was provided by solar (1,448 MW), wind (1,309 MW), and hydropower (24 MW). Renewable energy sources now account for 23.2% of the nation’s total available installed generating capacity and continue to expand their lead over coal (20.1%).
The generating capacity of just wind and solar is now at 13.3% of the nation’s total, and that does not include distributed (e.g., rooftop) solar.
FERC’s latest monthly “Energy Infrastructure Update” report (with data through August 31, 2020) also reveals that natural gas accounted for 36.5% (6,029 MW) of the total, with very small contributions by coal (20 MW) and “other” sources (5 MW) providing the balance. There have been no new capacity additions by oil, nuclear power, or geothermal energy since the beginning of the year.
Five years ago, FERC reported that installed renewable energy generating capacity was 17.4% of the nation’s total with wind at 5.9% (now 9.2%) and solar at 1.1% (now 4.1%). By comparison, in August 2015, coal’s share was 26.5% (now 20.1%), nuclear was 9.2% (now 8.7%), and oil was 3.9% (now 3.3%). Only natural gas has shown any growth among non-renewable sources – expanding modestly from a 42.8% share five years ago to 44.6% today.
In addition, FERC data suggest that renewables’ share of generating capacity is on track to increase significantly over the next three years (i.e., by August 2023). “High probability” generation capacity additions for solar is foreseen to grow by 30,356 MW. By comparison, net growth for natural gas will be only 23,413 MW. Wind and solar combined are forecast to provide more than twice as much new generating capacity as natural gas over the next three years.
If these numbers hold
Over the next three years, renewable energy generating capacity should account for comfortably more than a quarter of the nation’s total available installed generating capacity – increasing from 23.2% today to 27.0% three years hence. Meanwhile, coal’s share will drop to 17.4% (from 20.1% today), nuclear to 8.0% (from 8.7%), and oil to 2.8% (from 3.3%). Natural gas’ share will barely budge – increasing to 44.7%, compared to 44.6% now.
In fact, renewables’ share could be even higher. Over the past one and one-half years, FERC has been regularly increasing its renewable energy projections in the monthly “Infrastructure” reports. For example, eight months ago (in its December 2019 report), FERC forecast net growth over the next three years of 48,254 MW for renewable energy sources – i.e., 11,187 MW less than its latest projection.
— Solar Builder magazine