This article is an adaptation of a SUN DAY Campaign press release.
Renewable sources (biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) have set a new annual record, accounting for almost two-thirds (63.85 percent) of the 16,485 megawatts (MW) of new electrical generation placed in service in the United States during calendar year 2015.
According to the latest monthly "Energy Infrastructure Update" from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), 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 a third more than the 5,942 MW of new capacity provided by 50 new 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). Taken together, renewables represented 10,525 MW in new generating capacity for 2015.
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 was 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 United States: 8.56 percent for water, 6.31 percent for wind, 1.43 percent for biomass, 1.20 percent for solar, and 0.33 percent for geothermal steam. The share of total installed capacity from non-hydro renewables (9.27 percent) now exceeds that from conventional hydropower (8.56 percent). And, for the first time, installed electrical capacity from non-hydro renewables (108.34 GW) has eclipsed that of nuclear power (107.03 GW).
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 twelvefold (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 fell from 30.3 percent to 26.16 percent.
"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," noted Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. "The future - in fact, the present - has become renewable energy!"
Author: Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign.
The SUN DAY Campaign is a non-profit research and educational organization founded in 1992 to aggressively promote sustainable energy technologies as cost-effective alternatives to nuclear power and fossil fuels.
- The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released its most recent seven-page "Energy Infrastructure Update," with data through December 31, 2015, on February 2, 2016. See the tables titled "New Generation In-Service (New Build and Expansion)" and "Total Installed Operating Generating Capacity" at: http://ferc.gov/legal/staff-reports/2015/dec-infrastructure.pdf.
- Generating capacity is not the same as actual generation. The electrical production per megawatt 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 provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration on November 30, 2015, actual net electrical generation from utility-scale renewable energy sources now totals about 13.2 percent of total U.S. electrical production (see: www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly); however, this figure understates renewables' actual contribution because neither EIA nor FERC fully accounts for all electricity generated by distributed renewable energy sources (such as rooftop solar, which is estimated to be equal to about 45 percent of utility-scale solar capacity).