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FERC Report Shows Renewables on Track to Lead in New Generating Capacity for 2019

The Sun Day Campaign News

Renewables Likely to Dominate New Capacity in 2019 as Wind-Generated Electricity Grows 33% and Solar by 22%

According to a review by the SUN DAY Campaign of data recently released by both the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) for the first ten months of 2019, the mix of renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) is on track to place first in the race for new U.S. electrical generating capacity added in 2019.

FERC’s latest monthly “Energy Infrastructure Update” report (with data through October 31, 2019) reveals that natural gas holds a diminishing lead for 2019 with 49.67% of all new generating capacity compared to 48.45% for the mix of renewables (i.e., wind – 28.55%, solar – 18.59%, hydropower – 0.83%, biomass – 0.41%, geothermal – 0.06%). The balance of new capacity added includes nuclear power (0.99%), oil (0.49%), coal (0.39%), and “other” (0.01%).

Notwithstanding a strong start earlier this year, gas’ rapidly shrinking lead seems likely to disappear completely once the full 12-months of data are tabulated. In October, gas added just one megawatt (MW) of new capacity while the mix of renewables added 721 MW. New renewables capacity, mostly wind and solar, also exceeded that of gas in July, August, and September.

Moreover, EIA recently reported that it “expects that an additional 7.2 GW of (new wind) capacity will come online in December 2019” alone [1] – a one-month expansion roughly equal to the total of new gas capacity (7.8 GW) brought online in the ten months since the beginning of the year. EIA also foresees another 14.3 GW of wind capacity coming online in 2020.

The forecast growth in new wind capacity during the remainder of 2019 is reinforced by EIA’s latest “Electric Power Monthly” report (with data through October 31, 2019) which shows that wind-generated electricity in the month of October 2019 was 32.80% higher than a year earlier while year-to-date (YTD), wind produced 9.21% more electricity than during the same 10-month period in 2018.

Likewise, solar-generated electricity in October 2019 was 21.65% higher than in October 2018 while YTD, solar’s electrical output was 14.59% higher than for the same time-frame a year earlier. Small-scale solar photovoltaics (e.g., rooftop solar systems) alone grew by 19.22% YTD. Compared to all other energy sources, solar-generated electricity has enjoyed the fastest growth rate thus far in 2019 – that for natural gas, for example, was just 6.71%. Nuclear power grew by a mere 0.08% while coal-generated electricity plunged by 14.46%.

For the first ten months of 2019, the mix of renewables accounted for 18.18% of the nation’s electrical generation, compared to 17.57% during the same time period a year earlier. Renewable energy sources were also 21.95% of total available installed generating capacity, up from 20.76% a year earlier. [2]

Solar capacity alone is now 3.37% of the nation’s total compared to 2.93% a year ago [3] while that of wind has expanded from 7.72% to 8.50%. In addition, wind now enjoys a clear lead over hydropower in both its share of capacity (8.50% vs. 8.43%) and actual generation (247,182 thousand MWh vs. 230,815 thousand MWh).

“If I were to predict the final numbers for the year based on the data and trends to date,” noted Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign, “I think it is highly probable that renewables, dominated by wind and solar, will comfortably take the lead for new capacity added in 2019 and then continue to expand their lead in 2020 and beyond.”

[1] See: U.S. Energy Information Administration, “U.S. Onshore Wind Capacity Exceeds 100 Gigawatts” (December 9, 2019) https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=42235

[2] 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 ten months of 2019, EIA reports that renewables accounted for almost 18.2% of the nation’s total electrical generation – that is, somewhat less than their share of installed generating capacity (almost 22.0%) for the same period. Conversely, coal’s share of generating capacity in the first ten months of 2019 was 21.0% while its share of electrical generation was 23.4%.

[3] FERC generally only reports data for utility-scale facilities (i.e., those rated 1-MW or greater) and therefore its data do not reflect the capacity of distributed renewables, notably rooftop solar PV which – according to the EIA – accounts for nearly a third of the nation’s electrical generation by solar. That would suggest that total distributed and utility-scale solar capacity may be as much as 50% higher than reported by FERC.

Sources:

FERC’s 6-page “Energy Infrastructure Update for October 2019” was released on December 18, 2019 and can be found at: https://www.ferc.gov/legal/staff-reports/2019/oct-energy-infrastructure.pdf . For the information cited in this update, see the tables entitled “New Generation In-Service (New Build and Expansion)” and “Total Available Installed Generating Capacity.”

FERC’s “Energy Infrastructure Update” reports for October 2018, July 2019, August 2019, and September 2019 can be found at:

https://www.ferc.gov/legal/staff-reports/2018/oct-energy-infrastructure.pdf

https://www.ferc.gov/legal/staff-reports/2019/july-energy-infrastructure.pdf

https://www.ferc.gov/legal/staff-reports/2019/aug-energy-infrastructure.pdf

https://www.ferc.gov/legal/staff-reports/2019/sep-energy-infrastructure.pdf

The U.S. Energy Information Administration issued its latest “Electric Power Monthly” report on December 23, 2019. The data cited in this update can be found at, or extrapolated from:

https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.php?t=epmt_es1b

https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.php?t=epmt_es1a

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