Solar and wind each added more capacity in US than natural gas in 9-mo 2022
The Amadeus wind farm, Texas. Image source: Baywa r.e. (www.baywa-re.com)
According to a review by the SUN DAY Campaign of data just released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), utility-scale (i.e. > 1 MW) solar and wind each added more new generating capacity than did natural gas during the first nine months of 2022.
Moreover, FERC's three-year forecast suggests that installed natural gas capacity will begin to decline by fall 2025 while that of solar and wind continues to rapidly expand.
Renewables Provide Almost 70% of New Capacity in First Three-Quarters of 2022:
Solar (6,751 MW) and wind (6,328 MW) each provided more new generating capacity during the first three-quarters of this year than did natural gas (6,086 MW). Combined with capacity additions by geothermal (90 MW), biomass (22 MW), and hydropower (14 MW), renewable energy sources accounted for 13,205 MW or 68.4% of the 19,316 MW of new generation put into service this year.
Besides natural gas, the balance came from nuclear power (17 MW) and oil (8 MW). No new capacity was reported for 2022 from coal.
In addition, solar provided 82.7% (48 -MW) of the new capacity reported in September alone. This includes the 275-MW Noble Solar & Storage Project in Denton County, Texas and the 150-MW Wood County Solar Project in Wood County, Wisconsin, among others. Also added in September was 99 MW of new natural gas capacity and 3 MW of new hydropower.
These recent additions bring renewable energy's share of total US available installed generating capacity up to 26.96%: wind - 11.23%, hydropower - 8.05%, solar - 6.14%, biomass - 1.22%, and geothermal - 0.32%. For comparison, five years earlier, renewables' share was 19.84%. Ten years ago, it was 14.79%.
FERC foresees very strong solar and wind growth in the near-term:
Perhaps more dramatic are the trend lines indicated by FERC data for the next three years - i.e., through September 2025.
FERC reports that there may be as much as 206,184 MW of new solar capacity in the pipeline with 71,617 MW classified as "high probability" additions and no offsetting "retirements." The "high probability" additions alone would nearly double utility-scale solar's current installed capacity of 77,210 MW while successful completion of all projects in the pipeline would nearly quadruple it.
In addition, new wind capacity by September 2025 could total 70,808 MW with 18,252 MW being "high probability" and only 140 MW of retirements expected. Thus, installed wind capacity (now 141,110 MW) could grow by at least 12.8% and possibly by much more.
“High probability” generation capacity additions for utility-scale solar and wind combined, minus anticipated retirements, reflect a projected net increase of 89,729 MW over the next three years, or almost 2,500 MW per month. That figure does not include new distributed, small-scale solar capacity or additions by hydropower, geothermal, and biomass.
Notably, just one month earlier, FERC had projected 84,596 MW of net "high-probability" additions by wind and solar during the next three years. Thus, within a single month, FERC upped its near-term solar and wind forecast by 6.1%. While FERC itself offered no explanation for the increase, this may reflect the initial impact of passage of the Inflation Reduction Act.
Natural Gas Capacity May Have Peaked While Coal and Nuclear Continue to Decline:
Arguably more startling is FERC's forecast for natural gas capacity over the next three years. FERC anticipates 107 units of "high probability" additions by natural gas by September 2025 totaling 17,062 MW of capacity. However, there will also be "retirements" of 130 units totaling 17,489 MW. If that materializes, installed natural gas capacity would actually decline, very possibly indicating that natural gas generating capacity has now peaked
FERC expects new nuclear additions to total 2,200 MW (i.e., the two new reactors being constructed at the Vogtle nuclear plant site near Waynesboro, Georgia). However, FERC also projects that nuclear retirements over the next three years will total 2,323 MW.
In addition, FERC reports no new coal generating capacity in the three-year pipeline but 19,106 MW of expected retirements. Oil generating capacity is projected to fall by 1,710 MW as well.
As a Consequence ...
If just FERC's latest "high probability" projections materialize, by September 2025, renewable energy sources would grow from a bit over a quarter today to nearly a third (32.37%) of the nation's total available installed generating capacity. Utility-scale solar and wind generating capacity would expand from 17.37% of domestic capacity today to almost one-quarter (23.24%) by September 2025 with solar and wind accounting for 11.23% and 12.01% respectively.
Meanwhile, natural gas' share would contract from 44.24% today to 41.91% by September 2025. If current trends continue or - as seems likely - accelerate, renewable energy generating capacity should overtake that of natural gas before 2030. Moreover, coal's share of the nation's generating capacity would fall from 17.46% to 15.11% by September 2025 while that of nuclear power would decline from 8.15% to 7.72% and that of oil would drop from 3.02% to 2.74%.
"FERC's latest data may be the most dramatic published thus far this year," noted the SUN DAY Campaign's executive director Ken Bossong. "A sharp increase in FERC's three-year forecast for wind and solar within just the last month coupled with an apparent peaking of natural gas seem to confirm that the nation has finally turned a corner on its transition to sustainable energy sources."
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FERC's 6-page "Energy Infrastructure Update for September 2022" was released on November 7, 2022 and can be found at: https://cms.ferc.gov/media/energy-infrastructure-update-september-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's "Energy Infrastructure Update for September 2017" can be found at: https://www.ferc.gov/media/2677
FERC's "Energy Infrastructure Update for September 2012" can be found at: https://www.ferc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-05/sep-2012-energy-infrastructure.pdf
 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 23.3% of the nation's total electrical generation in the first eight months of 2022 - that is, somewhat less than what FERC reported was their share (26.96%) of installed generating capacity for the same period.
 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 6.14% reported by FERC for the first three-quarters of 2022 and is perhaps closer to 8.5%.
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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. Follow on Twitter: @SunDayCampaign
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.