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Renewable Energy Provides All New U.S. Generating Capacity in April

From the SUN DAY CAMPAIGN

Washington DC – According to a review by the SUN DAY Campaign of data just released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), wind, solar, and hydropower provided 100% of the 1,328 megawatts (MW) in new U.S. electrical generating capacity added in April 2020.

FERC’s latest monthly “Energy Infrastructure Update” report (with data through April 30, 2020) also reveals that renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) have accounted for 5,113 MW – or 56.3% – of the 9,082 MW added during the first four months of this year. Thirty-two new “units” of wind (totaling 3,104 MW) were added to the U.S.’s total energy generating capacity accompanied by 110 units of solar (1,973 MW), six units of hydropower (25 MW), and two units of biomass (11 MW).

FERC also reported 3,964 MW (or 21 units) of new natural gas capacity, which accounted for most of the balance. There have been no new capacity additions by coal, oil, nuclear power, or geothermal energy since the beginning of the year.

Renewable energy sources now account for 22.87% of the nation’s total available installed generating capacity and continue to expand their lead over coal (20.32%) [1]. The generating capacity of just wind and solar is now at 12.87% of the nation’s total and that does not include distributed (e.g., rooftop) solar [2].

For perspective, five years ago, FERC reported that total installed renewable energy generating capacity was 17.05% of the nation’s total with wind at 5.74% (now 9.08%) and solar at 1.05% (now 3.79%). Thus, over the past half-decade, wind’s share of the nation’s generating capacity has nearly doubled while that of solar is now almost four times greater.

By comparison, in April 2015, coal’s share was 27.50% (now 20.32%), nuclear was 9.14% (now 8.71%), and oil was 3.92% (now 3.29%). Only natural gas has shown any growth among non-renewable sources – expanding from a 42.23% share five years ago to 44.64% today.

In addition, FERC data suggest that renewables’ share of generating capacity should increase significantly over the next three years (i.e., by April 2023). “High probability” generation capacity additions for wind, minus anticipated retirements, reflect a projected net increase of 26,867 MW while solar is foreseen growing by 24,083 MW. By comparison, net growth for natural gas will be only 20,657 MW. Thus, wind and solar are on track to each provide 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 (1,903 MW, 178 MW, and 19 MW respectively), the generating capacity of coal and oil are projected to plummet – by 16,428 MW and 3,112 MW respectively. In fact, FERC reports no new coal capacity in the pipeline over the next three years and just 4 MW of new oil-based capacity. Nuclear power is forecast to remain essentially unchanged – adding just 2 MW.

In total, the mix of all renewables will add more than 53 gigawatts (GW) of net new generating capacity to the nation’s total by April 2023. That is nearly 50 times the net new capacity (1.1 GW) projected to be added by natural gas, coal, oil, and nuclear power combined.

If these numbers hold, over the next three years, renewable energy generating capacity should account for more than a quarter of the nation’s total available installed generating capacity.

In fact, renewables’ share could be even higher. Over the past year, FERC has been regularly increasing its renewable energy projections in its monthly “Infrastructure” reports. For example, two months ago in its February report, FERC forecasted net growth over the next three years of 50,933 MW for renewable energy sources (i.e., 2,117 MW less than its latest projection).

“Notwithstanding the impacts of the global coronavirus crisis, renewables – especially wind and solar – are continuing on their march to eventual energy dominance,” noted Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “And as prices for renewably-generated electricity fall ever-lower, that growth trend seems certain to accelerate.”

The SUN DAY Campaign is a non-profit research and educational organization founded in 1992 to support a transition to 100% reliance on sustainable energy technologies as a cost-effective alternative to nuclear power and fossil fuels, and as a solution to climate change. Contact: Ken Bossong, 301-588-4741 or 301-270-6477 x.6

Notes:

[1] 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 example, in 2019, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that renewables accounted for 18.2% of the nation’s total electrical generation – that is, somewhat less than was their share of installed generating capacity (22.1%) for the same period. Conversely, coal’s share of generating capacity in 2019 was 20.9% while its share of electrical generation was 23.3%.

[2] 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 the total of distributed and utility-scale solar capacity combined may be as much as 50% higher than the solar capacity of 3.8% reported by FERC — i.e., more than 5%.

Sources:

FERC’s 6-page “Energy Infrastructure Update for April 2020” was released on June 5, 2020 and can be found at: https://www.ferc.gov/legal/staff-reports/2020/apr-energy-infrastructure.pdf. For the information cited in this update, see the tables entitled “New Generation In-Service (New Build and Expansion),” “Total Available Installed Generating Capacity,” and “Generation Capacity Additions and Retirements.”

It appears that FERC also released its six-page “Energy Infrastructure Update for March 2020” on the same date (i.e., June 5, 2020). It can be found at: https://www.ferc.gov/legal/staff-reports/2020/mar-energy-infrastructure.pdf.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration issued its “Electric Power Monthly” report for calendar year 2019 on February 26, 2020. The data cited in that 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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