If it weren’t for a 9-MW natural gas addition and another 5 MW from hydropower, all new electrical generating capacity added in the United States in January and February 2021 came from wind and solar. Nine utility-scale wind farms came online in the first two months of the year, totaling 2,263 MW while solar added 1,516 MW to the grid during the same period.

Credit: McCarthy Building Cos.

The SUN DAY Campaign analyzed data from FERC’s latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” report to also find that in February, only wind (968 MW) and solar (589 MW) was added to the grid.

Utility-scale renewable energy facilities collectively now account for 24.55% of the nation’s total available installed generating capacity and continue to expand their lead over coal (19.30%) and nuclear power (8.50%). The generating capacity of just wind (10.11%) is now more than one-tenth of the nation’s total while wind and solar combined account for 14.72% — and that does not include residential and commercial solar.

In fact, FERC data suggest that renewables’ share of generating capacity is on track to increase significantly over the next three years. “High probability” generation capacity additions for wind, minus anticipated retirements, reflect a projected net increase of 21,628 MW while solar is foreseen growing by substantially more — 38,785 MW. Hydropower is also projected to experience growth (900 MW), while biomass and geothermal may dip by 213 MW and 2 MW, respectively.

On the other hand, the generating capacities of coal and oil are projected to plummet — by 24,661 MW and 4,005 MW, respectively. In fact, FERC reports no new coal capacity in the pipeline over the next three years and just 11 MW of new oil-based capacity. Nuclear power is likewise forecast to drop sharply — by 4,330 MW, or more than 4% of its currently operating capacity.

Moreover, natural gas’ currently dominant share of total generating is forecast to diminish as growth in new gas slows  while that of renewable sources accelerates. In its latest three-year projection, FERC foresees just 16,280 MW of net new gas compared to 61,098 MW of net new renewable energy capacity. 

In fact, the combination of just wind and solar are forecast to provide nearly four times (371%) more new generating capacity compared to natural gas over the next three years. Solar alone will provide more than twice as much net new capacity as natural gas. Further, wind and utility-scale solar together will be nearing a fifth (18.96%) of the nation’s installed generating capacity. Including hydropower, biomass, and geothermal, renewable energy generating capacity should account for comfortably more than one-quarter of the nation’s total available installed generating capacity — increasing to 28.51%. 

Meanwhile, if FERC’s projections prove accurate, the net new capacity from natural gas, coal, oil, and nuclear power combined will actually drop by 16,716 MW over the next three years. Coal’s share of total installed capacity will drop to 16.68% (from 19.30% today), nuclear’s to 7.86% (from 8.50%), and oil’s to 2.71% (from 3.13%). Natural gas’ share will also decline slightly to 44.08%, compared to 44.35% now.

“FERC’s forecasts for strong growth by solar and wind during the next few years may actually prove to be quite conservative,” noted Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “The anticipated call by the Biden Administration for deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector by the end of this decade — especially if backed up by supportive legislation — could greatly accelerate an already fast-moving train.”

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