Baseload, Bioenergy, Energy Efficiency, Geothermal, Hydropower, Solar, Storage, Wind Power

Renewables Account for 75 Percent of New US Generating Capacity in First Quarter of 2015

According to the latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Office of Energy Projects, wind, solar, geothermal, and hydropower combined provided over 75 percent (75.43 percent) of the 1,229 megawatts (MW) of new U.S. electrical generating capacity placed into service during the first quarter of 2015. The balance (302 MW) was provided by natural gas.

Specifically, during the quarter, eight new “units” of wind came on line with a combined capacity of 647 MW — accounting for 52.64 percent of all new generating capacity for the quarter. It was followed by 30 units of solar (214 MW), one unit of geothermal steam (45 MW), and one unit of hydropower (21 MW). Five units of natural gas provided the new capacity from that sector.

FERC reported no new capacity from biomass sources for the quarter nor any from coal, oil, or nuclear power.

The numbers for the first three months of 2015 are similar to those for the same period in 2014 when renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) provided 1,422 MW of new capacity and natural gas 159 MW while coal and nuclear provided none and oil just 1 MW.  Renewable energy sources accounted for half of all new generating capacity last year. 

Renewable energy sources now account for 16.92 percent of total installed operating generating capacity in the U.S.: water – 8.53 percent, wind – 5.65 percent, biomass – 1.38 percent, solar – 1.03 percent, and geothermal steam – 0.33 percent.  Renewable energy capacity is now greater than that of nuclear (9.11 percent) and oil (3.92 percent) combined. Moreover, as noted, total installed operating generating capacity from solar has now reached and surpassed the one-percent threshold.  

Note that generating capacity is not the same as actual generation. Generation per MW of capacity (i.e., capacity factor) for renewables is often lower than that for fossil fuels and nuclear power. According to the most recent data (i.e., as of December 2014) provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, actual net electrical generation from renewable energy sources now totals 13.2 percent of total U.S. electrical production; however, this figure almost certainly understates renewables’ actual contribution significantly because EIA does not fully account for all electricity generated by distributed renewable energy sources (e.g., rooftop solar).

The trend lines for the past several years have been consistent and unmistakable. Each month, renewable energy sources — particularly wind and solar — increase their share of the nation’s generating capacity while those of coal, oil, and nuclear decline.

Lead image: Wind turbines. Credit: Shutterstock.