Wind and solar power provided more than half of the new electrical generating capacity added to the U.S. grid during the first quarter of the year, says a new report from the SUN DAY Campaign, citing statistics from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
According to the nonprofit’s analysis of FERC’s latest Energy Infrastructure Update, which offers data through March 31, wind and solar provided a total of 50.84% of the new electrical generating capacity during the quarter.
The organization says 13 units of wind, totaling 1,479 MW, combined with 62 units of solar, totaling 939 MW, exceeded the 2,235 MW provided by 21 units of natural gas and 102 MW provided by one unit of nuclear power. There was also 1 MW of capacity from other sources, such as fuel cells.
Notably, SUN DAY says that in the first three months of the year, no new generating capacity was provided by coal, oil, hydropower, biomass or geothermal.
Moreover, the pace of growth of new solar and wind capacity is accelerating, according to the report. For the first quarter of 2017, new capacity from those sources was 18.07% greater than that added during the same three-month period in 2016 (2,418 MW vs. 2048 MW).
Renewable sources (biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar and wind) now account for almost one-fifth (19.51%) of the nation’s total available installed generating capacity: hydropower at 8.48%, wind at 7.12%, solar at 2.17%, biomass at 1.41% and geothermal at 0.33%, the report says.
By comparison, at the end of 2016, renewables provided 19.17% of the total generating capacity. If current growth rates continue, renewables should top 20% before the end of this year, according to SUN DAY.
Further, generating capacity by renewable sources is now more than double that of nuclear power (9.10%) and is rapidly approaching that of coal (24.25%), the analysis adds.
“The Trump administration’s efforts to reboot coal and expand oil drilling continue to be proven wrong-headed in light of the latest FERC data,” comments Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “Once more, renewables – led by wind and solar – have proven themselves to be the energy sources making America great again.”
In another recent report citing FERC data, the nonprofit said newly installed capacity from renewable sources totaled 61.5% of all new U.S. capacity added in 2016.
SUN DAY notes that generating capacity is not the same as actual generation: Electrical production per megawatt of available capacity (i.e., capacity factor) for renewables is often lower than that for fossil fuels and nuclear power. For instance, neither FERC nor the U.S. Energy Information Administration fully accounts for all electricity generated by smaller-scale, distributed renewable energy sources. FERC’s data, for example, is limited to plants with a nameplate capacity of 1 MW or greater and thereby fails to include distributed sources such as rooftop solar, the organization explains.