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84% of New U.S. Generating Capacity Will Deliver Fossil-Free Electricity This Year

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  • Jan 20, 2021

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Wind and solar will deliver 70% of new U.S. renewable energy capacity this year, compared to only 16% expected to come from natural gas, while battery storage will vault to 11% of the total, according to new data released last week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Solar will be the biggest single source of new generation, at 39%, followed by wind at 31%, Greentech Media reports. The much-anticipated new Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia will supply the remaining 3% if it goes into service this year.

The EIA’s calculation “only counts utility-scale projects, so solar and batteries at homes and businesses will yield an even bigger clean energy tally,” Greentech notes. But even so, “the numbers indicate that the power industry has not simply accepted wind and solar power, but embraced them to such an extent that they dominate new construction. Of the new plants built this year, 84% will deliver electricity without burning fossil fuels.”

Greentech reporter Julian Spector calls that “a remarkable shift from the market landscape just a few years ago,” reflecting “continued cost declines as the industry scales up and renewable supply chains mature.” The numbers land as the Biden-Harris administration takes office with a US$2-trillion climate and green recovery plan in its (proverbial) back pocket, with utility buy-in making the shift off carbon look “less threatening to industry,” he says.

Earlier in the month, S&P Global Market Intelligence projected the U.S. will add 172.5 gigawatts (that’s 172.5 billion watts) of new renewable energy capacity through 2024, including 96.8 gigawatts of solar and 75.7 GW of wind.

“While some of the projects may not cross the finish line, especially those in early development phases, wind and solar projects totalling 30.7 GW of capacity are now under construction,” S&P writes, in a post republished by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “Meanwhile, 18.2 GW of projects are in advanced development, 109.3 GW are in early development, and developers announced 14.1 GW of new projects.”

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David Trahan's picture
David Trahan on Jan 26, 2021

From the EIA & others its reported in US we consumed about 3.75 trillion kwh.

The sentiment in the article makes it sound like solar and wind are making up tremendous ground with a growth of 30.7 Gigawatts under construction and we'll be free of fossil fuels & nuclear just a few years from now.

The current consumption rate of electrical power in U.S. frames out the 30.7 GW currently under construction to a fraction of the total consumption amount. At this pace it will be decades to overcome all other forms of energy. 1 Gigawatt is about 3.125 million PV solar panels. So to make the 30.7 it would require about 95 million PV solar panels. Wow!!

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 26, 2021

It's a fair point that we need to look at the scale of things, but at the same time these installations are about long-term trends. The generators built (and retired) this year will have implications for the energy mix for many  years to come. It's a marathon, not a sprint (though I wish the energy transition was at more of a heavy jog at least by this point)

The Energy  Mix's picture
The Energy Mix on Jan 27, 2021

To that point, yes -- the more ground we need to cover, the more important it is to pick up the pace, with the IPCC's 2050 deadline bearing down on us (literally) by the day.

But David, it's a fallacy (I'm sure an unintended one) to simply calculate the number of solar panels the U.S. would need to meet all its energy demand. You wouldn't have expected one source of fossil energy to meet every need in the old, legacy system. Why would we arbitrarily pick one supply option over all others in a moment when we have a wider, more viable menu than ever before?

The other point is that a well-organized, integrated energy system starts out with demand management, not supply. We've known since the 1970s, if not longer, that the cheapest, most environmentally sound unit of energy consumption is the one we can permanently prevent, whether that's through direct conservation and efficiency measures or options like demand response. So why wouldn't we put the most practical, affordable starting point at the centre of our planning, particularly when the economy is in such dire need of the job creation that approach would unleash?

Better still -- what if the U.S. and other countries zeroed out the lavish subsidies that keep the fossil and nuclear industries afloat and pushed as close as possible to a least-cost energy strategy? Particularly if that strategy factored in "externalities" like respiratory health in fenceline communities or the social cost of carbon that society still pays for, even if fossil lobbyists haven't had to be bothered with them in recent years? If we really believe in market signals, why not listen to them, and set up our technology rollout, forward-looking R&D, and consumer incentives to keep amplifying them until the 2050 target is truly within reach?

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