Renewables on Track to Lead New Electrical Generating Capacity in 2019

According to a review by the SUN DAY Campaign of data released by both the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) for the first ten months of 2019, the mix of renewable energy sources (biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) is on track to place first in the race for new U.S. electrical generating capacity added in 2019.

FERC’s latest monthly “Energy Infrastructure Update” report (with data through Oct. 31, 2019) reveals that natural gas holds a diminishing lead for 2019 with 49.67 percent of all new generating capacity compared to 48.45 percent for the mix of renewables (wind – 28.55 percent, solar – 18.59 percent, hydropower – 0.83 percent, biomass – 0.41 percent, geothermal – 0.06 percent). The balance of new capacity added includes nuclear power (0.99 percent), oil (0.49 percent), coal (0.39 percent), and other (0.01 percent).

Notwithstanding a strong start earlier this year, gas’ shrinking lead seems likely to disappear completely once the full 12-months of data are tabulated. In October, gas added just 1-MW of new capacity while the mix of renewables added 721-MW. New renewables capacity – mostly wind and solar – also exceeded that of gas in July, August, and September.

Moreover, EIA recently reported that it “expects that an additional 7.2 GW of new wind capacity will come online in December 2019” alone – a one-month expansion roughly equal to the total of new gas capacity (7.8 GW) brought on-line in the ten months since the beginning of the year. EIA also foresees another 14.3 GW of wind capacity coming online in 2020.

The forecast growth in new wind capacity during the remainder of 2019 is reinforced by EIA’s latest “Electric Power Monthly” report, with data through Oct. 31, 2019, which shows that wind-generated electricity in the month of October 2019 was 32.8 percent higher than a year earlier while year-to-date (YTD), wind produced 9.21 percent more electricity than during the same 10-month period in 2018.

Likewise, solar-generated electricity in October 2019 was 21.65 percent higher than in October 2018 while YTD, solar’s electrical output was 14.59 percent higher than for the same time-frame a year earlier. Small-scale solar photovoltaics (rooftop solar systems) alone grew by 19.22 percent YTD. Compared to all other energy sources, solar-generated electricity has the fastest growth rate thus far in 2019; that for natural gas, for example, was just 6.71 percent. Nuclear power grew by a mere 0.08 percent while coal-generated electricity plunged by 14.46 percent.

For the first ten months of 2019, the mix of renewables accounted for 18.18 percent of the nation’s electrical generation, compared to 17.57 percent during the same time period a year earlier. Renewable energy sources were also 21.95 percent of total available installed generating capacity – up from 20.76 percent a year earlier.

Solar capacity alone is now 3.37 percent of the nation’s total compared to 2.93 percent a year ago while that of wind has expanded from 7.72 percent to 8.5 percent. In addition, wind now has a clear lead over hydropower in both its share of capacity (8.5 percent versus 8.43 percent) and actual generation (247,182 thousand MWh versus 230,815 thousand MWh).

“If I were to predict the final numbers for the year based on the data and trends to date,” notes Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign, “I think it is highly probable that renewables, dominated by wind and solar, will comfortably take the lead for new capacity added in 2019 and then continue to expand their lead in 2020 and beyond.”

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