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%.