FERC Data: Renewables Now 21% Of U.S.’ Energy Capacity

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Even though natural gas dominated new electrical generating capacity in 2018, renewable energy sources seem poised to swamp fossil fuels as new generating capacity is added over the next three years, according to a SUN DAY Campaign analysis of newly released data from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

FERC’s “Energy Infrastructure Update” report (with data through Dec. 31, 2018) notes that new natural gas generation placed in service in 2018 totaled 20,048 MW, or 64.9% of the total (30,881 MW).

Renewable sources (biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar and wind) accounted for 10,392 MW, or 33.7%. The balance (1.4%) was provided by nuclear (350 MW), waste heat (51 MW), oil (25 MW), coal (10 MW) and “other” (5 MW).

Supported by a late surge of new generating facilities in December (1,943 MW), wind ended 2018 with 6,028 MW of additional capacity for the year, or over 19.5% of the total. It was followed by solar (4,181 MW), or 13.5%. However, new capacity from wind and solar combined in 2018 (10,209 MW) was actually one-quarter less than that added in 2017 (13,601 MW), SUN DAY points out.

FERC’s numbers also reveal that renewable sources now account for 21.0% of total available installed U.S. generating capacity. Five years ago, renewables were 16.0%. Their total installed generating capacity has increased by 35.6% over the past half-decade (from 185.16 GW to 250.99 GW). Utility-scale solar has now reached 3.0% of the nation’s generating capacity while hydropower and wind account for 8.4% and 7.9%, respectively.

Moreover, the same report indicates that proposed generation and retirements over the next three years include net capacity additions by renewable sources of 183,816 MW. That is 4.2 times greater than the net new additions listed for coal, oil and natural gas combined (43,312 MW).

Net proposed generation additions from wind alone total 97,455 MW, while those from solar are 70,902 MW – each greater than that listed for natural gas (59,900 MW). Within just the past month (since the release of FERC’s November 2018 “Energy Infrastructure Update” report), the amount of net new solar and wind proposed to be added by January 2022 has increased by 9.1%, from 154,344 MW to 168,357 MW.

Meanwhile, FERC lists only a single new 17 MW coal unit for the upcoming three-year period but 15,244 MW in retirements. Oil will also decline by 1,361 MW. However, FERC inexplicably lists nuclear power as increasing by 2,090 MW, SUN DAY says.

“The dramatic expansion of natural gas capacity in 2018 does not bode well for efforts to reduce U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions,” concludes Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “However, the continued growth of wind, solar and other renewables and the probability of a significant increase within the next few years does provide a bit of hope for addressing the worsening perils posed by climate change.”

It should be noted, according to SUN DAY, that FERC reports data only 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 – according to the U.S. Energy Information (EIA) – accounts for approximately 30% of the nation’s installed solar capacity. That would suggest that solar capacity is now actually 4% or more of the nation’s total.

SUN DAY also notes that 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 11 months of 2018, EIA reports that renewables accounted for a little more than 17.6% of the nation’s total electrical generation – that is, a bit less than their share of installed generating capacity, almost 21.0%.

FERC’s seven-page “Energy Infrastructure Update for December 2018” was released on Feb. 5. It can be found here.

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ElectricGuyLuca BartolozziJimJeremy Joseph CoutsDavid Reich Recent comment authors
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ElectricGuy
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ElectricGuy

This is an informative article. Articles on solar generation in the US do not always list the data correctly. Solar generation statistics generally do not include rooftop units because they are not monitored. There are approximately one million rooftop solar installs just in California. Ignoring their output is misleading. This country is getting close to 2 million solar rooftops. In reference to another comment on this article solar panels are not 15 to 21% efficient per Jim’s definition. A 100 watt panel can give off 100 watts when in full sunlight. This generation of 100 watts is 15 to 21%… Read more »

Luca Bartolozzi
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Luca Bartolozzi

wow, capacity is at 21% (+ 4% including lower than 1mw residential PV system) BUT in real world generation is only 17,6%… you write a little bit less, ACTUALLY IS 3,4 POINTS LESS, which equals to a nominal real generation of over 16% less than necessary. IF ALL OTHER SOURCES were so uneffective and unable to generate what you invested in, THEN It would have meant California + New York +Oregon + Washington state + Massachusetts totally blacked out.. do you realize how unreliable those sources are? 16% of US population without electric energy, heating, water (no pumps for water-systems).… Read more »

Jim
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Jim

Oh please. Solar is only 15 to 21% efficient, meaning a 100 Watt panel will only deliver 15 to 20 watts and that is only ideal, much less when the sun is not perpendicular to the panel or obviously at night. Solar generates less than 2 % of electrical production and wind is at around 7%. This is after massive taxpayer subsidies. Of course Solar Industry Magazine uses nameplate capacity, a meaningless number and leaves out the ridiculous amounts of taxpayer money that is used to subsidize them. They are not the future and tax dollars should not be wasted… Read more »

Jeremy Joseph Couts
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Jeremy Joseph Couts

Have fun explaining away that heavy metal sludge from people sending their dead solar panels to a landfill in about 20 years. Yes it was a run on sentence. At least I admit when I’m wrong.

David Reich
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David Reich

Capacity is one thing. Production is a another. The entire renewable energy market is driven by a lie. The lie that CO2 is causing extreme weather event frequency to increase and temperatures to rise. Neither is true. Research paper after paper shows absolutely no increase in extreme weather events over the last 150 years. Secondly, the only reliable, long and widespread temperature data comes from the U.S. In 1986 James Hansen, NASA’s leading climate scientist stated that by next year (2020), the US would experience a 4-6 deg temperature increase based on his “scientific models”. Three years, later the NY… Read more »