Renewables Provide Majority of New US Generating Capacity through November 2016

Renewable energy accounted for the majority (50.5 percent) of new U.S. electrical generation put into service during the first 11 months of 2016, according to the latest issue of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) monthly Energy Infrastructure Update (with data through Nov. 30, 2016).

Combined, newly installed capacity from renewable sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) totaled 9,655 MW, surpassing that from natural gas (8,109 MW), nuclear power (1,270 MW), coal (45 MW), and oil (33 MW) combined.

In the month of November alone, solar and wind combined to provide 946 MW — 158 times more than that from natural gas (just 6 MW).

Year-to-date, new solar generating capacity totals 5,717 MW, while new wind generating capacity totals 3,533 MW. There are also 314 MW of new hydropower capacity and 91 MW of new biomass capacity but no new geothermal steam capacity thus far in 2016.

The rapid growth of renewables — particularly solar and wind — has resulted in their seizing an ever-growing share of the nation’s total generating capacity. Five years ago, renewable sources cumulatively accounted for slightly over 14 percent of total available installed generating capacity; now they provide almost 19 percent (18.69 percent): hydropower, 8.53 percent; wind, 6.58 percent; solar, 1.84 percent; biomass, 1.41 percent; and geothermal, 0.33 percent.

Each of the non-hydro renewables has grown during the past half-decade with solar’s share of the nation’s generating capacity now more than 12 times greater than in November 2011.

By comparison, oil is now only 3.81 percent, nuclear power is 9.16 percent, and coal is 24.77 percent — shares of the total that are all lower than five years ago (4.62 percent, 9.45 percent, and 29.95 percent respectively). Only natural gas has experienced modest growth and that is from 41.67 percent in 2011 to 43.40 percent today.

FERC’s latest data should be a wake-up call to the new Congress and the incoming Trump Administration. Don’t mess with a winning hand — continue to support solar, wind, and other renewables!

Note that generating capacity is not the same as actual generation. Electrical production per MW of available capacity (i.e., capacity factor) for renewables is often lower than that for fossil fuels and nuclear power. As noted, the total installed operating generating capacity provided by renewables in 2016 is now about 18.7 percent of the nation’s total whereas actual electrical generation from renewables year-to-date (according to the latest U.S. Energy Information Administration figures) is roughly 15.1 percent; however, both of these figures understate renewables’ actual contribution because neither EIA nor FERC fully accounts for all electricity generated by smaller-scale, distributed renewable energy sources.

Lead image credit: U.S. Department of Energy

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