Solar and Wind Provide 70 Percent of New US Generating Capacity in November 2014

According to the latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Office of Energy Projects, wind energy and solar power combined provided over 70 percent (71.82%) of the 873 megawatts (MW) of new U.S. electrical generating capacity placed into service in November 2014.

Specifically, three wind farms came on line last month, accounting for 333-MW of new generation in service. These included Stella Wind Farm’s 182-MW Panhandle Wind Farm Phase II expansion in Texas and the 150-MW Origin Wind Energy project in Oklahoma. New wind generating capacity this year thus far has more than doubled that for the same period in 2013 (2,525-MW vs. 1,112-MW).

In addition, 14 new “units” of solar came on line for a total of 294-MW of capacity, led by MidAmerican Renewables LLC’s 250-MW Topaz Solar Farms expansion in California.

Just a single new unit of natural gas came on-line last month (Wisconsin Electric Power Co’s 140-MW Valley Power Plant Unit 1 Repowering Project) as well as the first and only coal plant to come into service so far in 2014 (Great River Energy’s 106-MW lignite-fueled Spiritwood Station  project in North Dakota).

So, for the ninth time in the past eleven months, renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) accounted for the majority of new U.S. electrical generation brought into service. Natural gas took the lead in the other two months (April and August).

Of the 10,926-MW of new generating capacity from all sources installed since January 1, 2014, 39 units of wind accounted for 2,525-MW (23.11 percent), followed by 235 units of solar – 2,203-MW (20.16 percent), 49 units of biomass – 282-MW (2.58 percent), 7 units of hydropower – 141-MW (1.29 percent), and 5 units of geothermal – 32-MW (0.29 percent). In total, renewables have provided 47.43 percent of new U.S. electrical generating capacity thus far in 2014.

The balance came from 46 units of natural gas – 5,513-MW (50.46 percent), 1 unit of coal – 106-MW (0.97 percent), 1 unit of nuclear – 71-MW (0.65 percent), 15 units of oil – 47-MW (0.43 percent), and 6 units of “other” – 7-MW (0.06 percent). Thus, new capacity from renewable energy sources in 2014 is 49 times that from coal, 73 times that from nuclear, and 110 times that from oil.

Renewable energy sources now account for 16.44 percent of total installed operating generating capacity in the U.S.: water – 8.43 percent, wind – 5.42 percent, biomass – 1.38 percent, solar – 0.88 percent, and geothermal steam – 0.33 percent.  Renewable energy capacity is now greater than that of nuclear (9.22 percent) and oil (3.97 percent) combined. 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 September 2014) provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, actual net electrical generation from renewable energy sources now totals a bit more than 13 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).

With only one month left in 2014, it has become a horse race between natural gas and renewable energy as to which will dominate new electrical generation for the year. Regardless of the winner, it is apparent that coal, oil, and nuclear will be left behind in the dust.

Lead image: Solar and wind via Shutterstock

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