Renewable Electrical Generating Capacity in 2019 Swamps Coal, Gas, Oil, and Nuclear Combined

According to a review by the SUN DAY Campaign of data issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the mix of renewable energy sources (biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) provided 57.26 percent of new U.S. electrical generating capacity added in 2019; swamping that provided by coal, natural gas, oil, and nuclear power combined.

FERC’s monthly “Energy Infrastructure Update” report (with data through December 31, 2019) reveals renewable sources (biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) accounted for 11,857 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity by the end of the year. That is a third more (33.97 percent) more than that of natural gas (8,557 MW), nuclear (155 MW), oil (77 MW), and coal (62 MW) combined.

Renewables have now also surpassed 22 percent (22.06 percent) of the nation’s total available installed generating capacity; further expanding their lead over coal capacity (20.89 percent). Among renewables, wind can boast the largest installed electrical generating capacity, 8.51 percent of the U.S. total, followed by hydropower (8.41 percent), solar (3.49 percent), biomass (1.33 percent), and geothermal (0.32 percent). Thus, wind and solar combined now account for 12 percent of the nation’s electrical generating capacity.

Moreover, FERC foresees renewables dramatically expanding their lead over fossil fuels and nuclear power in terms of new capacity additions during the coming three years (by December 31, 2022). Net generating capacity additions (“proposed additions under construction” minus “proposed retirements”) for renewable sources total 48,254 MW: wind – 26,403 MW, solar – 19,973 MW, hydropower – 1,460 MW, biomass – 240 MW, and geothermal – 178 MW.

By comparison, net additions for natural gas total 21,090 MW while the installed capacities for coal, nuclear, and oil are projected to drop by 18,857 MW, 3,391 MW, and 3,085 MW respectively. In fact, FERC reports no new coal capacity in the pipeline over the next three years.

Thus, while net new renewable energy capacity is projected to be nearly 50,000 MW greater within three years, that of fossil fuels and nuclear power combined will decline by over 4,200 MW. Between now and the end of 2022, new wind capacity alone will be greater than that of natural gas while that of wind and solar combined will more than double new gas capacity.

Moreover, if FERC’s data prove correct, then by the end of 2022, renewable sources will account for more than a quarter (25.16 percent) of the nation’s total available installed generating capacity while coal will drop to 18.63 percent and that of nuclear and oil will decrease to 8.29 percent and 2.95 percent, respectively. Natural gas will increase its share, but only slightly, from 44.67 percent today to 44.78 percent.

“The rapid growth of renewables and corresponding drop in electrical production by coal and oil in 2019 provides a glimmer of hope for slowing down the pace of climate change,” notes Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “And renewables’ continued expansion in the near future, as forecast by FERC, suggests that with supportive governmental policies, these technologies could provide an even greater share of total U.S. electrical generation.”  

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