Renewables were sole source of new US generating capacity in last quarter

Figures published by the US Government’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) show that renewable energy sources have been the sole source of new capacity added between June and September.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” for September revealed that renewable energy sources have accounted for nearly two thirds, or 64.1%, of the 16,886MW of new utility-scale capacity added over the first three quarters of 2020.

New gas capacity additions accounted for 35.8%, with only 20MW of coal added so far in 2020 and 5MW of “other” sources. There were no new capacity additions by nuclear power, oil, or geothermal energy.

Of the total 2,976MW of new generating capacity added between June and September was provided by renewable energy sources – almost all of it from wind and solar. Solar capacity additions amounted to 1,484MW, wind provided 1,486MW, and hydropower just 24MW.

Further, in September alone, all new US electrical generation capacity additions were attributed to two new “units” of wind, worth 159MW, and five units of solar worth 36MW.

Unsurprisingly, then, renewable energy generating capacity has continued to expand its lead over coal, with renewables boasting 23.3% of the United States’ capacity and coal only 20%.

Worth noting, however, is that capacity is different to actual generation, where fossil fuels like coal tend to be higher than those for most renewable energy sources.

For comparison, in 2019, when renewable capacity accounted for 22.1% and coal 20.9%, actual electrical generation was 18.2% for renewables and 23.3% for coal.

“There is no longer any doubt that renewable energy sources are already replacing coal, oil, and nuclear power while nipping at the heels of gas,” noted Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign.

“In light of campaign promises made by President-elect Biden, this trend should not only continue but greatly accelerate in the year(s) to come.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s data also suggests that the share of renewable energy sources in the United States generating mix should increase rapidly over the next three years, with a “high probability” that wind energy will see a net increase of 27,324MW, while solar is forecast to grow by a net of 32,801MW.

Overall, FERC expects total renewable energy capacity to add over 61,400MW over the next three years.

FERC predicts the net growth for gas over the next three years will only amount to 20,872MW, while net capacity additions for hydropower, geothermal, and biomass are all projected to increase only marginally.

Conversely, FERC predicts the generating capacity of coal and oil will plummet over the next three years, with coal dropping by 22,346MW and oil by 5,023MW.

Further, FERC currently sees no new coal capacity in the pipeline over the next three years, and only 6MW of new oil-based capacity. Meanwhile, nuclear is also expected to see a drop, albeit less dramatically, losing 5% of its current operating capacity.

The SUN DAY Campaign are quick to note, however, that FERC has been forced to adjust its projections for renewables after years of conservative estimates, and its current estimates may be downplaying the expected growth of the renewable energy industry over the coming years, especially with a newly-elected President Biden seeking to stimulate the US economy and re-establish the country’s position as an energy and climate leader.

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