According to an analysis by the SUN DAY Campaign of the latest data released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), natural gas dominated new electrical generating capacity in 2018. However, renewable energy sources (such as solar wind, geothermal, and hydropower) may be poised to swamp fossil fuels as new generating capacity is added over the next three years.
FERC’s “Energy Infrastructure Update” report (with data through November 30, 2018) notes that new natural gas generation placed in service during the first 11 months of 2018 totaled 16,687 MW or 68.46% of the total (24,376 MW). Renewable sources accounted for only 30.12% led by wind (3,772 MW) and solar (3,449MW). Note, FERC only reports data for utility-scale facilities, so those rated 1-MW or greater.
However, the same report indicates that proposed generation and retirements by December 2021 include net capacity additions by renewable sources of 169,914 MW. That is 4.3 times greater than the net new additions listed for coal, oil, and natural gas combined (39,414 MW).
Net proposed generation additions from wind alone total 90,268 MW while those from solar are 64,066 MW — each greater than that listed for natural gas (56,881 MW). FERC lists only a single new 17-MW coal unit for the three-year period but 16,122 MW in retirements. Oil will also decline by 1,362 MW while nuclear power is depicted as remaining largely unchanged (i.e., a net increase of 69 MW).
FERC’s data also reveal that renewable sources now account for 20.8% of total available installed U.S. generating capacity. (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 2018, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that renewables accounted for 17.6% of the nation’s total electrical generation — that is, a bit less than their share of installed generating capacity of 20.8%.
Utility-scale solar is nearly 3% (i.e., 2.94%) while hydropower and wind account for 8.42% and 7.77% respectively.