This month’s Energy Infrastructure Update from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) brings good news on the health of the U.S. renewable energy sector. For the second straight year, most of the new generating capacity came from renewable sources (61.5 percent). As a result, the combined generating capacity (the maximum amount of electricity a generator is capable of producing) of non-hydro renewable sources (10.67 percent) now exceeds that of nuclear power (9.00 percent) and oil (3.79 percent). When hydropower is included, renewables now account for almost 20 percent of all generating capacity in the United States.
Non-hydro renewables have grown rapidly over the last five years, thanks to a coalescence of technological innovation and energy policy. In 2016, solar and wind grew at a particularly fast pace. Wind power, an especially valuable resource for the Midwest, was the most installed renewable in 2016, accounting for 30 percent of the grand total (natural gas, the largest overall, accounted for 33 percent). But solar power, which has taken off since 2011, was really close behind, at 29.5 percent of the total. Generating capacity from solar is currently 12 times greater than it was five years ago. This soaring growth of solar has actually accelerated, with more than twice the amount of capacity being installed in 2016 than in the previous year.
Conversely, oil, coal, and nuclear power have played a progressively smaller role in the country’s energy mix. Coal declined most drastically, with its share of the energy mix falling by more than 17.6 percent over the past five years. Natural gas is the only non-renewable electricity source that has seen its share grow since 2011, from 41.6 percent to 43.2 percent of installed capacity.
Because nuclear power is frequently used for baseload power during peak demand, the amount of electricity it actually generates for the grid is almost double what non-hydro renewables contribute. But as grid modernization allows renewable power to be used more efficiently, renewable energy will surpass nuclear and coal generation in the next two decades, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Author: Ben Topiel
This article was based on a SUN DAY press release, written and researched by Ken Bossong.
- "Second Year in a Row: New Renewable Electrical Capacity Exceeds that from Gas, Coal, Oil, And Nuclear Combined," SUN DAY Press Release
- “Renewable Energy to Surpass Coal and Nuclear by 2030: 7 Key Takeaways from EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2016,” Union for Concerned Scientists
- “Smart Grid,” Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability
- “Energy Storage,” Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability
- “New Study Helps Map Out Road Ahead for U.S. Electricity System,” U.S. Department of Energy