New FERC report shows renewables were leading source of new capacity in 2019

Credit: Enel
Whitney Hill Wind Farm. Credit: Enel

According to a review by the SUN DAY Campaign of data released yesterday by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for the first eleven months of 2019, the mix of renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) is now in first place in the race for new U.S. generating capacity added in 2019.

FERC’s latest monthly “Energy Infrastructure Update” report (with data through November 30, 2019) reveals that renewable sources (i.e. biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) accounted for 8,784 MW of new generating capacity through the end of November. That is 8% more than that of natural gas (7,819 MW), nuclear (155 MW), oil (77 MW), and coal (62 MW) combined. Combined, renewables provided 52% of new generating capacity through the first eleven months of 2019 and seem poised to increase their share once the final December numbers are released.

Renewables have now also surpassed 22% (i.e., 22.03%) of the nation’s total available installed generating capacity – further expanding their lead over coal capacity (20.92%). Among renewables, wind can boast the largest installed electrical generating capacity – 8.52% of the U.S. total, followed by hydropower (8.43%), solar (3.43%), biomass (1.33%), and geothermal (0.32%).

Moreover, FERC foresees renewables dramatically expanding their lead over fossil fuels and nuclear power in terms of new capacity additions during the coming three years (i.e., December 2019 – November 2022). Net generating capacity additions (i.e., “proposed additions under construction” minus “proposed retirements”) for renewable sources total 49,926 MW: wind – 28,856 MW, solar – 19,156 MW, hydropower – 1,463 MW, biomass – 238 MW, and geothermal – 213 MW.

By comparison, net additions for natural gas total 23,233 MW while the installed capacities for coal, nuclear, and oil are projected to drop by 14,067 MW, 3,751 MW, and 2,751 MW respectively.

Thus, net new renewable energy capacity will be 18.7 times greater than that of fossil fuels and nuclear power combined (49,926 MW vs. 2,664 MW).

FERC’s projections are consistent with new projections released just this week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). The agency expects solar and wind to represent 76% (or almost 32 GW) of new capacity additions in 2020. 

Wind will account for the largest share of these additions at 44%, followed by solar and natural gas at 32% and 22%, respectively. Operators have scheduled 18.5 GW of wind capacity to come online in 2020, surpassing the record level of 13.2 GW set in 2012. EIA expects 13.5 GW of solar capacity to come online in 2020, surpassing the previous annual record addition of 8 GW in 2016. Planned natural gas capacity additions for 2020 are 9.3 GW. The remaining 2% comes from hydroelectric generators and battery storage.

In addition, in its latest “Short-Term Energy Outlook” report – issued yesterday – EIA projects actual electrical generation by non-hydro renewables to increase by 32% between 2019 and 2021. Including hydropower, EIA forecasts renewables to provide 22% of the nation’s electrical generation in 2021.

Of note: Capacity is not the same as actual generation. Capacity factors for nuclear power and fossil fuels tend to be higher than those for most renewables. For the first ten months of 2019, EIA reports that renewables accounted for almost 18.2% of the nation’s total electrical generation – that is, somewhat less than their share of installed generating capacity (22.0%) for the same period. Conversely, coal’s share of generating capacity in the first ten months of 2019 was 21.0% while its share of electrical generation was 23.4%.

In regards to solar generation, FERC generally only reports data for utility-scale facilities (i.e., those rated 1-MW or greater) and therefore its data do not reflect the capacity of distributed renewables, notably rooftop solar PV which – according to the EIA – accounts for nearly a third of the nation’s electrical generation by solar. That would suggest that total distributed and utility-scale solar capacity may be as much as 50% higher than reported by FERC — i.e., more than 5%.

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Ken Bossong is the Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. The SUN DAY Campaign is a non-profit research and educational organization founded in 1993 to promote sustainable energy technologies as cost-effective alternatives to nuclear power and fossil fuels.

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