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Renewables Account for 46% New US Electrical Generating Capacity Since January

The latest "Energy Infrastructure Update" report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's Office of Energy Projects states that renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, solar, water, wind) accounted for 41.14% of new electrical generating capacity installed in October 2012 and 46.22% for the first ten months of 2012.

According to the report, in October, ten new wind power projects (594 MW) came on line as well as three biomass projects (69 MW), 10 solar projects (59 MW), and one water power project (5 MW).

During the first ten months of 2012, 92 wind projects (5,403 MW), 167 solar projects (1,032 MW), 79 biomass projects (409 MW), seven geothermal projects (123 MW), and 9 water power projects (12 MW) have come on-line. Collectively, these total 6,979 MW or 46.22% of all new generating capacity added since the beginning of the year.

By comparison, new natural gas capacity additions since January 1, 2012 totaled 67 projects (5,702 MW) or 37.8% while three new coal projects added 2,276 MW (15.1%). Nuclear and oil represented just 0.8% and 0.1% of new capacity additions respectively.

The new renewable energy generating capacity added in 2012 represents a 47.7% increase over the level recorded for the same period in 2011. Renewable sources now account for 14.93% of total installed U.S. operating generating capacity — more than nuclear (9.27%) and oil (4.32%) combined. 

Release of the FERC study was followed by the most recent "Electric Power Monthly" report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration which finds that non-hydro renewables accounted for 5.2% of net electrical generation for the first nine months of 2012 - an increase of 13.3% compared to the same time period in 2011. Almost two-thirds (63.44%) of the non-hydro renewable electrical generation came from wind, followed by biomass (26.70%), geothermal (7.78%), and solar (2.08%). Solar alone increased by 133.3% while wind grew by 17.7%. Combined with conventional hydropower, renewable energy sources for the period January 1 - September 30, 2012 accounted for more than 12.2% of net U.S. electrical generation. According to the EIA, "These additions understate actual solar capacity gains. Unlike other energy sources, significant levels of solar capacity exist in smaller, non-utility-scale applications - e.g., rooftop solar photovoltaics."

Comparing the first nine months of 2012 to the same time-frame in 2011, coal used for electrical generation dropped by 16.3%, nuclear by 1.1%, petroleum liquids by 20.3%, and petroleum coke by 35.5%. Conventional hydro also declined by 14.5%. Among the non-renewable energy sources, only natural gas showed an increase — 26.1%. 

The continued strong growth by renewable energy sources for electrical power generation over the past four or five years vindicates the investments made in these technologies. Moreover, their rapid expansion underscores their near-term viability for ultimately phasing out both fossil fuels and nuclear power.

Lead image: Green city via Shutterstock

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