FERC projects that natural gas capacity will not grow in the next three years. That means nearly 100% of net generating capacity growth is expected to made up of renewables.
The SUN Day Campaign released its January 2023 analysis of data and projections from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and Green Energy Times is reprinting it. Here, however, we want look at the same report from a slightly different angle.
We should start with a note on the past. On July 15, 2020, just two and a half years ago, G.E.T. posted a little news item at its web site, “Fossil Fuels Are Failing, FERC Data Shows.” (https://bit.ly/FFAF-FERC) That post said the United States had finally reached the important point that fossil fuels had entered an overall decline for generating capacity of electricity.
The post looked at projections by FERC about highly probable construction of new generating plants and retirement of old ones, from June of 2020, to May, 2023. It showed that the net change in combined capacity of the fossil fuel plants would fall to less than zero in that time. The reason was that coal-burning power plants were no longer being built, and the net capacity growth of gas-burning power plants (capacity of new plants minus capacity of plants being retired) was insufficient to replace the capacity of coal plants being retired.
Specifically, FERC projected that from June, 2020 to May, 2023, there would be a net growth of 17,480 megawatts (MW) of natural gas generating capacity, a net loss of 20,696 MW of coal capacity, and a net loss of 3,982 MW of oil capacity. So combined capacity of fossil fuels generating was expected to fall 7,198 by May, 2023. (https://bit.ly/May-2020-data)
Now, in late January of 2023, we can see how well FERC did with its projections. The short story is that fossil fuels declined a good deal more than expected. Gas capacity grew by 16,050 MW, 1,430 MW less than projected. Coal capacity fell by 26,710 MW, 6,014 more than projected. Over all, including the small change in oil-burning capacity, U.S. fossil fuel generating capacity fell by 12,470 MW, about 173% of what FERC had projected. Data for this is in the above report combined with FERC’s Infrastructure Update for January, 2023. (https://bit.ly/Nov-2022-data)
Now that we have looked at FERC’s 2020 projections, we can look at its current projections of the coming three years. While FERC’s latest projections the use of both coal and oil continues to fall, they show that natural gas capacity has stopped its net growth and entered a period of net decline. The decline was first seen in September, 2022, but it has continued since, except for very small growth in the most recent report.
This means that not only is capacity of fossil fuels in decline overall, as we noted in 2020, but that there is no single part of the fossil fuels industry that shows net growth.
It is interesting that the rate of overall decline changed abruptly, starting at just about the time that the Inflation Reduction Act was passed in August, 2022. We could see natural gas additions slowing before that point, which was not surprising because the cost of electricity generated by solar and wind power had fallen below that of that generated by natural gas, even when the cost of backup batteries for renewables is taken into account. Now, the net growth of natural gas capacity is expected to be negative for the coming three years, overall.
It might be good to look at the growth of wind and solar generating capacity. It is clear that while fossil fuel capacity is no longer growing and is going into decline, the growth of solar and wind capacity has exceeded earlier projections. In 2020, FERC projected a growth of 26,154 MW of solar capacity in three years, for 56.8% growth. Solar capacity exceeded that projection, however, as 29,580 MW were installed, a growth of 64.2%, bringing solar capacity to 76,040 MW. The current projection is that in the next three years, solar capacity increase by 88%, with additions of 67,147 MW and no retirements.
For windpower, in 2020, FERC projected a net capacity growth of 26,559 MW. At that time, wind capacity was 109,750 MW, so the growth would have taken it to 136,309 MW. Now FERC lists wind capacity at 141,100 MW, nearly 5 MW higher than they had projected. Their most recent projection is for a net 17,449 to be added over the coming three years.
So current projections for wind and solar capacity are that they will have net capacity additions of 84,598 MW over the next three years. And at the same time, there would be practically no growth of fossil fuel burning generating capacity.
That means approximately 100% of net generating capacity growth in the next three years is expected by FERC to be additions of renewable capacity.
By the way, for those who view such news as some sort of political propaganda, there are four members of the FERC board that issued these reports, and all of them were appointed by former president Donald Trump.