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Renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) dominated new US electrical generating capacity additions in the first half of 2020.

Renewable energy accounted for 57.14% or 7,859MW of the 13,753MW of new energy capacity added during the first six months of year, according to a review by the SUN DAY Campaign of data just released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Renewable energy sources now account for 23.04% of the nation’s total available installed generating capacity and continue to expand their lead over coal (20.19%).

The generating capacity of just wind and solar is now at 13.08% of the nation’s total excluding distributed solar.

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FERC’s Energy Infrastructure Update report reveals that natural gas accounted for 42.67%  (5,869MW) of the total, with very small contributions by coal (20MW) and “other” sources (5MW) providing the balance.

There have been no new capacity additions by oil, nuclear power, or geothermal energy since the beginning of the year.

Moreover, all of the 1,013MW of new generating capacity added in just the month of June was provided by solar (609MW), wind (380MW), and hydropower (24MW).

These include the 200.1MW Reading Wind Project in Lyon, KS and the 179.8MW RTS 2 Wind Project in MCulloch County, TX, as well as the 300MW Prospero Solar Project in Andrews County, TX and the 121.9MW Wagyu Solar Project in Brazoria County, TX. 

Five years ago, FERC reported that total installed renewable energy generating capacity was 17.27% of the nation’s total with wind at 5.84% (now 9.13%) and solar at 1.08% (now 3.95%). Thus, over the past half-decade, wind’s share of the nation’s generating capacity has expanded by nearly 60% while that of solar is now almost four times greater.

FERC data suggest that renewables’ share of generating capacity is on track to increase significantly over the next three years (i.e., by June 2023). ‘High probability’ generation capacity additions for wind, minus anticipated retirements, reflect a projected net increase of 27,226MW while solar is foreseen growing by 26,748MW. By comparison, net growth for natural gas will be only 19,897MW. Thus, wind and solar are forecast to each provide at least a third more new generating capacity than natural gas over the next three years.

While hydropower, geothermal, and biomass also are all projected to experience net growth (2,056MW, 178MW, and 113 MW respectively), the generating capacity of coal and oil are projected to plummet – by 22,398MW and 4,359MW respectively. In fact, FERC reports no new coal capacity in the pipeline over the next three years and just 4MW of new oil-based capacity. Nuclear power is forecast to remain essentially unchanged – adding a net of just 2MW.

In total, the mix of all renewables will add more than 56.3GW of net new generating capacity to the nation’s total by June 2023 while the net new capacity projected to be added by natural gas, coal, oil, and nuclear power combined will actually drop by 6.9GW.

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.

In fact, renewables’ share could be even higher. Over the past one and a half years, FERC has been regularly increasing its renewable energy projections in its monthly “Infrastructure” reports. For example, six months ago in its December 2019 report, FERC forecast net growth over the next three years of 48,254MW for renewable energy sources – i.e., 8,067MW less than its latest projection.

Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign, said: “While the global coronavirus crisis has slowed their rate of growth, renewables – especially wind and solar – continue to expand their share of the nation’s electricity generating capacity.

“And as prices for renewably-generated electricity and energy storage fall ever-lower, that growth trend seems nearly certain to accelerate.”