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Renewables Were Almost 2/3 of New U.S. Generating Capacity in 1stQ 2023 as Solar and Wind Growth Exceeded FERC's Earlier Projections by More Than 50%
- May 15, 2023 10:32 pm GMT
Based upon a review by the SUN DAY Campaign of data newly released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) provided almost two-thirds (64.64%) of new U.S. utility-scale generating capacity added in the first quarter of this year.
New utility-scale solar capacity was 2,530 megawatts (MW) or 39.56% of the total ... and that does not include small-scale distributed PV systems. New wind capacity provided 1,475-MW or 23.06% of the total. Hydropower and biomass added 100-MW and 29-MW respectively. New natural gas capacity totaled 2,259-MW (35.32)% and was supplemented by 2-MW of new oil. No new capacity additions were reported for coal, nuclear power, or geothermal energy.
In the month of March alone, all new capacity additions were provided by just solar (491-MW) and wind (409-MW). These included the 297.3-MW Seven Cowboy Wind Project in Washita County, Oklahoma and the 112.0-MW Deerfield Wind Energy II Project in Huron County, Michigan, as well as the 102.0-MW Chaparral Solar Project in Kern County, California; the 100.0-MW Skyhawk Solar Project in Obion County, Tennessee; and the 100.0-MW Crossett Solar Project in Ashley County, Arkansas.
With these latest additions, renewable energy now accounts for 27.67% of total installed utility-scale generating capacity including 11.51% from wind and 6.67% from solar.
Notably, the share of U.S. generating capacity is growing at a substantially faster rate than had been anticipated by FERC. In March 2020, renewables' share of total generating capacity was just 22.74%. At that time, FERC projected that "high probability" additions by solar in the ensuing three-year period would be 24,083-MW. In fact, solar grew by 39,470-MW. Likewise, FERC's three-year forecast for net "high probability" wind additions was 26,867-MW. Instead, wind expanded by 38,550-MW. Combined, new solar and wind capacity additions totaled 78,020-MW during the past three years or 53.13% more than FERC had expected.
For the next three years, FERC is now forecasting 77,594-MW of new "high probability" solar capacity joined by 17,071-MW in net new wind capacity plus 556-MW from hydropower and 2-MW from geothermal steam. By comparison, coal capacity is foreseen as dropping by 28,507-MW, oil by 1,572-MW, natural gas by 574-MW, nuclear power by 123-MW, and biomass by 103-MW.
If FERC's projections prove to be accurate, by the end of the first quarter of 2026, renewable energy generating capacity will be more than a third (33.46%) of the total with nearly equal shares provided by wind (12.23%) and solar (12.16%). Meanwhile the shares provided by fossil fuels and nuclear power will all decrease: natural gas from 44.00% to 41.83%, coal from 17.12% to 14.16%, oil from 2.99% to 2.73%, and nuclear power from 7.97% to 7.63%.
Keeping in mind, however, the degree to which FERC underestimated wind and solar growth during the past three years, U.S. generating capacity by the mix of all renewables by spring 2026 could end up being significantly higher than FERC now expects.
Over the past three years, renewable sources, led by solar and wind, added nearly five percentage points to their share of the nation's electrical generating. If that pace continues or accelerates - as seems likely - renewables will be providing more than a third of total installed generating capacity within the next three years and quite possibly more.
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FERC's 8-page "Energy Infrastructure Update for March 2023" was released on May 15, 2023, and can be found at: https://cms.ferc.gov/media/energy-infrastructure-update-march-2023. 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."
For FERC's three-year forecast (April 2020 - March 2023), see the "Energy Infrastructure Update for March 2020" at: https://cms.ferc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/mar-energy-infrastructu...
 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 approximately 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 6.67% reported by FERC for the first quarter of 2023 and is perhaps closer to 9.0% or 10.0%.
 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, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that renewables accounted for 22.6% of the nation's total electrical generation in 2022 - that is, somewhat less than what FERC reported was their share (27.3%) of installed generating capacity last year.
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