Renewables Account for Two-thirds of New US Generating Capacity in 2015; 3,500 Times More Than Coal

Washington DC – Setting a new annual record, renewable sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) accounted for almost two-thirds (63.85 percent) of the 16,485 MW of new electrical generation placed in service in the US during calendar year 2015.
According to the just-released latest monthly “Energy Infrastructure Update” report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Office of Energy Projects, 69 new “units” of wind accounted for 7,977 MW of new generating capacity – or nearly half (48.39 percent) of all new capacity for the year. That is one third more than the 5,942 MW of new capacity provided by 50 units of natural gas.
Among the other renewable sources, solar placed second with 2,042 MW (238 units) followed by biomass with 305 MW (26 units), hydropower with 153 MW (21 units), and geothermal steam with 48 MW (2 units).
FERC reported no new capacity at all for the year from nuclear power and just 15 MW from ten units of oil and only 3 MW from a single new unit of coal. Thus, new capacity from renewable energy sources during 2015 (10,525 MW) is more than 700 times greater than that from oil and over 3,500 times greater than that from coal.
Renewable energy sources now account for 17.83 percent of total installed operating generating capacity in the U.S.: water – 8.56 percent, wind – 6.31 percent, biomass – 1.43 percent, solar – 1.20 percent, and geothermal steam – 0.33 percent. The share of total installed capacity from non-hydro renewables (9.27 percent) now exceeds that from conventional hydropower (8.56 percent).
For perspective, when FERC issued its very first “Energy Infrastructure Update” in December 2010, renewable sources accounted for only 13.71 percent of total installed operating generation capacity. Over the past five years, solar’s share has increased 12-fold (1.20 percent vs. 0.10 percent) while that from wind has nearly doubled (6.31 percent vs. 3.40 percent). During the same period, coal’s share of the nation’s generating capacity plummeted from 30.37 percent to 26.16 percent. 
Finally, for the first time, installed electrical capacity from non-hydro renewables (108.34 GW) has now eclipsed that of nuclear power (107.03 GW). (See note at end of story.)
If it weren’t already obvious, the latest FERC data confirm that the era of coal, oil, and nuclear power is rapidly drawing to a close. The future – in fact, the present – has become renewable energy!

*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. According to the most recent data (i.e., as of Nov. 30, 2015) provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, actual net electrical generation from utility-scale renewable energy sources now totals about 13.2 percent of total U.S. electrical production; however, this figure understates renewables’ actual contribution because neither EIA nor FERC fully accounts for all electricity generated by distributed renewable energy sources (e.g., uncounted U.S. rooftop solar is equal to about 45 percent of utility-scale solar capacity).

Lead image: Solar panels and wind turbines. Credit: Shutterstock.


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