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1st 2/3 2021 - Renewables Are 86% of New U.S. Electrical Generating Capacity; Solar Capacity Now Exceeds 5% of US Total and Is on Track to Surpass Nuclear Power.

Ken Bossong's picture
Executive Director SUN DAY Campaign

Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign since 1992

  • Member since 2003
  • 36 items added with 13,475 views
  • Oct 5, 2021
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According to a review by the SUN DAY Campaign of data recently released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) dominated new U.S. electrical generating capacity additions during the first two-thirds of 2021. [1]

 

FERC's latest monthly "Energy Infrastructure Update" report (with data through August 31, 2021) reveals that renewable energy sources accounted for 86.46% - or 13,868 megawatts (MW) - of the 16,039 MW of new capacity added during the first eight months of the year. Wind led the capacity additions with 7,224 MW, followed closely by solar (6,585 MW). There were also small additions by hydropower (25 MW), geothermal (25 MW), and biomass (9 MW).

 

Most of the balance (2,155 MW) was provided by natural gas. There has been no new capacity added this year by coal and only 16 MW of new oil capacity have come online.

 

Renewables now provide more than a quarter (25.22%) of total U.S. available installed generating capacity. By comparison, a year ago, their share was only 23.22%. Five years ago, it was 18.39% and a decade earlier it was 14.09%.

 

Wind and solar alone accounted for 98.52% of the 1,554 MW of new capacity additions in July and August with natural gas providing just 23 MW. Wind is now more than a tenth (10.48%) of the nation's generating capacity while utility-scale solar has surpassed five percent (5.02%) … and that does not include distributed (e.g., rooftop) solar. [2]

 

Moreover, FERC data suggest that renewables’ share of generating capacity is on track to increase significantly over the next three years (i.e., by August 2024).  “High probability” generation capacity additions for wind, minus anticipated retirements, reflect a projected net increase of 21,708 MW while solar is foreseen growing by 44,052 MW. By comparison, net growth for natural gas will be only 13,186 MW. Thus, wind and solar combined are forecast to provide roughly five times more new net generating capacity than natural gas over the next three years.

 

Including hydropower, biomass, and geothermal, net new renewable energy capacity additions over the next three years are projected to total 66,581 MW. This is nearly identical to the actual net additions of renewable energy capacity - 65,820 MW - which FERC has reported for the last three years (i.e., since August 2018).

 

If FERC's latest projections materialize, by August 2024, renewable energy generating capacity should account for almost 30 percent (29.44%) of the nation's total available installed generating capacity.

 

Moreover, installed utility-scale solar capacity alone is on track to exceed that of nuclear power (106,060 MW vs. 104,620 MW) within that same time frame. In fact, new utility-scale solar capacity forecast to be added over the next three years (44,052 MW) will be more than 20 times greater than the capacity of the two new Vogtle nuclear reactors in Georgia (2,200 MW) that have been under construction since 2013.

 

"FERC's data confirm that wind and solar are dominating new capacity additions in 2021 and are likely to continue doing so in the future," noted Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. "Nonetheless, to effectively address climate change, the pace of renewable energy growth needs to increase at an even faster rate."

 

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[1] Capacity is not the same as actual generation. Capacity factors for nuclear power and fossil fuels tend to be higher than those for most renewables. Thus, during the first half of 2021, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that renewables accounted for 22.4% of the nation's total electrical generation - that is, somewhat less than what FERC reported was their share (25.1%) of installed generating capacity for the same period.

[2] FERC generally only reports data for utility-scale facilities (i.e., those rated 1-MW or greater) and therefore its data do not reflect the capacity of distributed renewables, notably rooftop solar PV which - according to the EIA - accounts for about 30% of the nation's electrical generation by solar. That would suggest that the total of distributed and utility-scale solar capacity combined is significantly more than the solar capacity of 5.02% reported by FERC -- i.e., closer to 7%.


Sources:

 

FERC's 6-page "Energy Infrastructure Update for August 2021" was released on September 30, 2021 and can be found at: https://cms.ferc.gov/media/energy-infrastructure-update-august-2021. For the information cited in this update, see the tables entitled "New Generation In-Service (New Build and Expansion)," "Total Available Installed Generating Capacity," and "Generation Capacity Additions and Retirements." FERC notes that its data are derived from Velocity Suite, ABB Inc. and The C Three Group LLC. and adds the caveat that "the data may be subject to update."
 

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The SUN DAY Campaign is a non-profit research and educational organization founded in 1992 to support a rapid transition to 100% reliance on sustainable energy technologies as a cost-effective alternative to nuclear power and fossil fuels and as a solution to climate change.

 

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Oct 5, 2021

Ken, all-caps notwithstanding:

"Capacity" is irrelevant. You know, and I know, that solar's capacity factor is one-fifth that of a nuclear plant in the U.S. ONE-FIFTH.* That means for solar to surpass nuclear power in actual generation, it would take five times as long as you claim.

But that would only be true if adoption of solar was linear - it proceeded at the same rate, indefinitely, until it reached 100%. And not in one country of the world is that the case - adoption hits a brick wall corresponding to its local capacity factor. So though it's theoretically possible for solar to reach 50% CF/adoption in the Sahara, on the equator - that will never happen anywhere else. The sun goes down each night**.

Nice try.

*Please pardon my breach of netiquette - all-caps is considered the equivalent of shouting at someone - but it seems to be your default manner of communication, so I though maybe I could reach you that way.
**Technically it could happen in polar regions too, where the sun stays above the horizon for six months. But it stays below the horizon for six months, too. No electricity for half the year. 50% capacity factor. Boo-hoo.

Ken Bossong's picture
Ken Bossong on Oct 5, 2021

Bob,

 

I believe your capacity factors are incorrect. Latest EIA data shows that for the past five years, nuclear capacity factors were ~92% while utility-scale PV was 25% ... so closer to 3.5 than the 5 you stated.

 

More importantly, the difference in capacity factors as it impacts actual generation does not mean it will take longer but only that more solar capacity is needed to generate the same amount of electricity per unit of nuclear capacity.

 

And solar's capacity is increasing rapidly while nuclear's is effectively no-growth. Over the next 3 years, FERC sees at least 44,000 MW of new solar capacity and no more than 1,300 MW of net new nuclear. If you want to adjust for the difference in capacity factors, that means that new solar electrical generation will be about 8 or 9 times greater than new nuclear generation. And while there is every indication of continued solar growth, there is absolutely no new nuclear capacity in the pipeline now beyond the two Vogtle reactors. So solar will continue to rapidly close the gap.

 

Your claim to the contrary notwithstanding, growth in solar as well as wind has been pretty consistent or "linear" for the past decade and FERC & EIA data both suggest that is likely to continue, if not accelerate, at least in the near future. If that happens, solar-generated electricity seems likely to surpass that of nuclear by the end of the decade. But if the 30% solar by 2030 targets announced by the solar industry as well as the Biden administration should materialize, the cross-over point will likely be sooner -- probably 2027.

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Oct 6, 2021

Ken, the average CF of utility-scale PV is only 25% when considering California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. On the eastern seaboard and the Pacific Northwest, it's 15% or less. So the reality, notwithstanding the empty promise of a nationwide grid, is that solar is a loser in most U.S. states.

"And solar's capacity is increasing rapidly..."

Build all the capacity you want - the sun will never shine at night, and American citizens and businesses need electricity at night. It's as simple as that.

"...nuclear's [capacity] is effectively no-growth."

Give nuclear a 30% ITC like solar and wind, and you'll be amazed at how fast nuclear plants start sprouting up across the U.S.!

"But if the 30% solar by 2030 targets announced by the solar industry as well as the Biden administration should materialize...."

Take it from someone who's been watching the solar industry for half a century - targets for solar never materialize. We're wasting time, when there's none to waste.

Ken Bossong's picture
Ken Bossong on Oct 7, 2021

In response to your last comment "Take it from someone who's been watching the solar industry for half a century," we may be able to go head-to-head ... I've been in this business since 1973.

 

Solar has generally exceeded projections for both cost and production -- take a look at some older EIA and IEA predictions - not to mention those from the oil industry - to see how much better solar has fared than expected. Its current rapid and sustained growth is being driven largely by its favorable economics.

 

Nuclear has had ... and continues to enjoy ... major financial incentives (consider, for example, the Price-Anderson Act or the effective public subsidization of waste disposal R&D or reactor decommissioning - for which most funds are insufficient). Nuclear is not competitive on its own .. even after nearly 70 years of development and would not be competitive even with additional financial supports like the recent New York, Illinois, and other state bailouts.

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Oct 8, 2021

Ken, the Price-Anderson Act has never paid out a dime, so I have no idea to what you're referring as far as "major financial incentives". The reality about renewable incentives is quite different than what you imagine it to be:
 


And though renewables folks and their buddies at the American Petroleum Institute like to call Zero Emission Credits "bailouts", apparently they don't understand solar and wind are entitled to those bailouts too - all zero-emission sources get the same credit. Those who do understand know if solar had to compete with nuclear on a level playing field it would be toast.
 

If you've been in the game since 1973 and still feel "solar has generally exceeded projections for both cost and production", I feel it necessary to remind you of the famous - and ill-fated - projections Jimmy Carter made about solar energy from the roof of the White House, way back in 1979:

"In the year 2000, the solar water heater behind me, which is being dedicated today, will still be here supplying cheap, efficient energy..."

(It was removed two years later.)

"In those homes now using electricity, a typical solar hot water heating system, such as the one behind me, can pay for itself in 7 to 10 years..."

(They never caught on, maybe because few Americans cared for a heater that couldn't deliver hot water on cloudy days.)

"By the end of this century I want our Nation to derive 20 percent of all the energy we use from the Sun...it is attainable if we have the will to achieve it."

(If solar proceeds at the rate it has since 1979, it will be 850 years before Carter's goal is achieved.)

"It's time for us to recognize once again...the great natural resources which God has given us. In directly harnessing the power of the Sun, we're taking the energy that God gave us, the most renewable energy that we will ever see."

(Hallelujah! Faith-based energy sources, however, can't keep the lights on, and now the same misplaced faith in renewables is destroying our climate.)

Time for a science-based approach to clean energy, and not a moment to lose.

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