According to a SUN DAY Campaign press release, renewable electrical capacity continues to be on the rise while other forms of electricity generation, including nuclear and coal, are stagnating or falling. In the past five years, renewables (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, and wind) have jumped from representing 15.4 percent of U.S. generating capacity to 20.21 percent.
Every month, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) puts out an “Energy Infrastructure Update,” which summarizes developments relating to energy. According to the December 2017 issue, renewable energy sources, including solar, wind, and hydropower, accounted for close to 50 percent of the U.S. electricity-generating capacity added in 2017, while natural gas accounted for about 48.7 percent, making this the fourth year in a row that renewable energy additions surpassed natural gas ones. There was no coal capacity added last year.
As a result of these new additions, renewables make up more than a fifth of U.S. generating capacity, and the capacity of non-hydro renewables is nearly 75 percent greater than in 2012. Solar capacity alone grew eight-fold in those five years: by the end of 2017, total installed solar utility-scale capacity was over 30 gigawatts. Solar now accounts for more than 2.5 percent of total install utility-scale capacity, and this does not include small-scale distributed solar such as rooftop PV. If such small-scale installations were included, the capacity figure for solar would probably be at least 30 percent greater. Further growth is bound to happen, as more families switch to solar and more utilities invest in solar. Although last month’s solar tariff may slow growth, the United States will likely continue to switch to affordable, environmentally-friendly electricity from the sun as solar installation prices continue to fall because of technological improvements and economies of scale.
Other renewable energy sources also grew significantly over the past year. Most dramatically, wind power increased by nearly 54 percent, and now accounts for 7.45 percent of total capacity. Biomass increased by 11.20 percent, geothermal by 3.51 percent, and hydropower by 2.79 percent. This growth can be attributed to the fact that renewable energy sources are not only better for the environment, but they are also becoming cheaper than traditional energy sources, so many utilities are moving forward with renewable energy projects as their most economical choice.
By contrast, older forms of electricity generation are either stagnating or seeing capacity decreases. Nuclear power accounts for 1.52 percent less total generating capacity than in 2012, and natural gas and oil plants have only increased their generating capacities by about 5 percent over 5 years, a slim number compared to renewable sources. Most importantly, coal’s share of U.S. generating capacity has dropped by nearly a fifth, from 29 percent in 2012 to 23 percent in 2017, mainly because of competition from natural gas. Such a steep drop has hit coal communities hard, but has helped reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions per capita (natural gas burns cleaner than coal, and renewables like hydropower, solar, and wind don't directly emit any greenhouse gases).
According to SUN DAY Campaign Executive Director Ken Bossong, "The unmistakable lesson to be drawn from the past five or more years of FERC data is that solar, wind, and the other renewable energy sources are carving out a large and rapidly-expanding share of the nation's electrical generation."
Author: Joanne Zulinski
Source: SUN DAY Campaign Press Release