FERC forecasts solar to provide two thirds of new US capacity over next 3 yrs
Solar modules. Author: Oregon Department of Transportation. License: Creative Commons, Attribution 2.0 Generic.
Based upon a review by the SUN DAY Campaign of data just released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), solar will account for nearly two-thirds (66%) of "high probability" additions to installed utility-scale generating capacity in the US over the next three years.
According to the latest issue of FERC's monthly "Energy Infrastructure Update" (with data through November 30, 2022), "high probability" additions by solar to US generating capacity between December 2022 and November 2025 will total 72,809 MW. FERC foresees no solar capacity retirements during that time. Such growth would nearly double solar's share of total available installed generating capacity, increasing it from 78,880 MW to 151,690 MW. (And this does not include small-scale, distributed solar capacity. )
In addition, wind generating capacity would grow substantially - by 16,955 MW - with just 140 MW of retirements. Hydropower is also expected to increase by 819 MW with 46 MW of retirements.
While FERC projects 17,260 MW of "high probability" additions by natural gas, that capacity would be almost entirely offset by 16,954 MW of retirements. Similarly, an expected increase of 2,200 MW in new nuclear capacity would be completely negated by 2,323 MW in retirements. FERC foresees no new coal capacity over the next three years but does anticipate 17,385 MW of retirements as well as a net decrease of 1,677 MW in oil generating capacity.
Between "high probability" additions and retirements among all energy sources, FERC projects a net increase of 71,391 MW in installed US generating capacity. In effect, new solar would account for the overall net increase in the nation's total capacity while new wind capacity would roughly displace the net decreases in fossil fuel and nuclear capacity.
If FERC's data become reality, by November 2025, solar and wind will be nearly equal in their shares of US generating capacity -- 11.41% and 12.02% respectively. The combination of all renewables (i.e., including hydropower, biomass, and geothermal) will account for almost one-third (32.54%) of US generating capacity - up from 27.19% today. Meanwhile, natural gas' share will drop from 44.15% to 41.80% while coal falls from 17.34% to 15.10% and nuclear from 8.14% to 7.69%. Contributions by oil and biomass would also fall.
Beyond "high probability" additions, FERC also provides data on "all additions" for each energy source that may be in the three-year pipeline. Solar dominates with 201,637 MW, followed by 67,950 MW for wind. By comparison, natural gas has only 33,547 MW. Hydropower accounts for another 12,400 MW. Consequently, it is conceivable that solar's expanding share of US generating capacity over the next three years could be even larger.
The trend lines during the first 11 months of 2022 suggest the higher forecasts for solar and wind may well prove accurate. Through the end of November, renewable energy sources accounted for 72.83% of all new capacity additions in 2022 with solar in the lead (36.53%), followed by wind (35.68%) - each comfortably surpassing natural gas (27.02%). In the month of November alone, renewables were 98.11% of all new capacity additions with solar again taking the lead (727 MW), followed by wind (665 MW) and only 27 MW of new gas.
As 2022 drew to a close, the share of the nation's generating capacity provided by utility-scale solar and wind totaled 17.63% (solar - 6.27%, wind - 11.36%). That surpassed the installed generating capacity of coal (17.34%) and greatly exceeded that of either nuclear power (8.14%) or oil (3.01%).
"The combined generating capacity of solar and wind is now greater than either coal or nuclear power," noted the SUN DAY Campaign's executive director Ken Bossong. "Moreover, if the current trajectory persists or accelerates, generating capacity by the mix of all renewables should overtake that of natural gas before 2030 and possibly much sooner."
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FERC's 6-page "Energy Infrastructure Update for November 2022" was released on January 13, 2023 and can be found at: https://cms.ferc.gov/media/energy-infrastructure-update-november-2022. 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."
 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 almost 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 6.27% reported by FERC for the first 11 months of 2022 and is perhaps closer to 8.5% - 9.0%.
 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, in its most recent "Electric Power Monthly" report, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that renewables accounted for 22.6% of the nation's total electrical generation in the first 10 months of 2022 - that is, somewhat less than what FERC reported was their share (27.0%) of installed generating capacity for the same period.
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The SUN DAY Campaign is a non-profit research and educational organisation 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.
Ken Bossong is Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign, a non-profit research and educational organiсation promoting sustainable energy technologies as cost-effective alternatives to nuclear power and fossil fuels.