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Renewables provided 81 percent of new US electrical capacity in 2021 concludes SUN DAY campaign review

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According to a review last week by Ken Bossong’s SUN DAY campaign, a one-man information resource promoting renewable energy founded in 1992, data newly released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows that renewable energy sources in the US provided 81.07 percent of new domestic electrical generating capacity in 2021.
Renewables provided 81 percent of new US electrical capacity in 2021 concludes SUN DAY campaign review
Courtesy of NREL.

FERC’s latest Energy Infrastructure Update shows that renewable facilities added 23,639 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity last year with solar and wind providing 12,804 MW and 10,754 MW respectively. Small additions were also provided by hydropower (28 MW), biomass (28 MW), and geothermal (25 MW). These numbers are preliminary and, based on the pattern of past years, are likely to grow in subsequent reporting.

EIA, in its latest Short-Term Energy Outlook, reports that US electric power sector added 14,000 MW of new wind capacity and 13,000 MW of utility-scale solar capacity in 2021. EIA also notes that small-scale (smaller than 1 MW), distributed solar grew by about 5,100 MW last year. 

Thus, utility-scale renewables plus distributed solar provided - on average - roughly 2,400 MW or more of new generating capacity each month in 2021.

FERC’s numbers indicate that new renewable capacity in 2021 was more than four times greater than that of natural gas, while there was no new nuclear capacity added last year, although oil and coal capacity increased by just 19 MW and 11 MW respectively.

Bossong’s review shows that renewables now provide more than a quarter (25.81 percent) of total US available installed generating capacity - a share significantly greater than that of coal (18.49 percent) and more than three times that of nuclear power (8.29 percent). By comparison, a year ago, renewables' share was only 24.06 percent. Five years ago, it was 19.17 percent and a decade earlier it was 14.26 percent. 

This growth is almost entirely attributable to a nearly three-fold increase in wind's share of installed generating capacity and a 32-fold increase in solar's share over the past ten years, according to Mr Bossong. Wind is now more than a tenth (10.68 percent) of US generating capacity (up from 3.93 percent in December 2011) while utility-scale solar has surpassed five percent (5.44 percent) - up from 0.17 percent in December 2011, and that does not include small-scale distributed solar.

In addition, FERC data suggest that the share of generating capacity from solar and wind is on track to increase significantly over the next three years (that is by December 2024). FERC notes that there may be as much as 180,875 MW of new solar capacity in the pipeline with 53,812 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 67,780 MW while successful completion of all projects in the pipeline would more than triple it. 

In addition, new wind capacity by December 2024 could total 76,822 MW with 21,577 MW being “high probability” and only 150 MW of retirements expected. Thus, installed wind capacity could grow by at least 16 percent and possibly by nearly 60 percent. 

“High probability” generation capacity additions for utility-scale solar and wind combined, minus anticipated retirements, reflect a projected net increase of 75,239 MW over the next three years, or almost 2,100 MW per month. Again, that figure does not include new distributed, small-scale solar capacity or additions by hydropower, geothermal, and biomass. By comparison, net growth for natural gas will be only 11,990 MW. Thus, solar and wind together are forecast to provide more than six times as much new net generating capacity as natural gas by December 2024, not to mention almost 350 times as much net new capacity as nuclear power (projected to add only 218 MW). 

If just FERC's latest "high probability" projections materialise, by December 2024, renewable energy sources should provide over 30 percent (30.51 percent) of US total available installed generating capacity with utility-scale solar and wind accounting for 9.34 percent and 11.86 percent respectively, or more than one-fifth (21.28 percent) combined.

Meanwhile, over the next three years, coal's share of total installed generating capacity will drop by 27,579-MW reducing its share from 18.49 percent to 15.57 percent; that of gas will fall from 44.16 percent to 43.15 percent; and nuclear power's contribution will decline from 8.29 percent to 7.95 percent. 

“FERC's and EIA's 2021 data once again confirm that the transition away from fossil fuels and nuclear power is well underway, led by the breath-taking growth of solar and wind” said Mr Bossong. “Given those agencies' habit of low-balling renewable energy growth, even their strong forecasts for renewable energy over the next few years are likely to be surpassed.”

The SUN DAY Campaign is a non-profit research and educational organization founded in 1992 to support a rapid transition to 100 percent reliance on sustainable energy technologies as a cost-effective alternative to nuclear power and fossil fuels and as a solution to climate change.

For additional information:

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)

US Energy Information Administration (EIA)

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