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Biomass LNG tanker – courtesy US Coast Guard

Published on June 24th, 2014 | by Roy L Hales

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Solar, Wind, Natural Gas Dominate New US Power Installations

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June 24th, 2014 by  

Editor’s Note: remember that these numbers are for utility-scale power plants, so they don’t include rooftop solar power additions.

Originally published on the ECOreport.

LNG tanker – courtesy US Coast Guard

LNG tanker. Courtesy US Coast Guard

The energy infrastructure figures for May are out, and renewables accounted for around 88% of all new installations, but that figure is deceptive. The fastest growing sector is still natural gas, which accounted for 46% of all new installations this year. Solar (29%) and wind (22%) followed. US installations are primarily solar, wind or natural gas.

Conventional industries like coal, nuclear, and oil have all flatlined, in terms of new installations.

US Installations by MW, using Ferc data - Roy L Hales

US Installations by MW, using Ferc data. Credit: Roy L Hales

Coal is no longer “king” of America’s energy capacity either. That title passed to natural gas, which now accounts for 42% of the total. Coal should sink to the status of America’s #2 energy source, followed by nuclear energy.

If the renewable sector is calculated as a group, their combined capacity is 16.28% and easily passes that of nuclear energy. More than half of that is hydropower. The next large segment is wind energy (5.26%).

US Energy Sources, Using FERC data - Roy L Hales

US Energy Sources, Using FERC data. Credit: Roy L Hales

A number of renewable energy plants came online in May:

  • Imperial Valley Solar 1 LLC’s 99 MW Imperial Valley solar project in Imperial County, CA is online. The power generated is sold to San Diego Gas & Electric under long-term contract.
  • Macho Springs LLC’s 48.5 MW Macho Springs Energy solar project in Luna County, NM is online. The power generated is sold to El Paso Electric Company under long-term contract.
  • Western Massachusetts Electric Co’s 4 MW Indian Orchard Solar Facility project in Hampden County, MA is online.
  • City of Lemoore’s 3 MW City of Lemoore solar project in Kings County, CA is online. Kearsarge Barre 1 LLC’s 2 MW Kearsarge Barre 1 solar project in Worcester County, MA is online.
  • Prairie Breeze Wind Energy LLC’s 201 MW Prairie Breeze Wind Energy Farm in Antelope, Boone, and Madison Counties, NE is online. The power generated is sold to Omaha Public Power District under long-term contract.
  • Huerfano River Wind LLC’s 2 MW Huerfano River Wind Phase 2 expansion project in Huerfano County, CO is online. The power generated is sold to San Isabel Electric Association Inc. under long-term contract.
  • Green Power Electric Membership Corp’s 4.8 MW Pecan Row Landfill Energy project in Lowndes County, GA is online. The power generated will serve Green Power’s membership.

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About the Author

is the editor of the ECOreport (www.theecoreport.com), a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of North America and writes for both Clean Techncia and PlanetSave. He is a research junkie who has written hundreds of articles since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.



  • Poechewe

    I’m glad to see positive numbers. But, to put things in perspective, China installed 12 gigawatts last year and is on track to install 14 this year and is on track to add much more in the next two years.

    It’s time for the U.S. to pick up the pace.

    • Richard Nixon

      China has over 1.3 billion people to cover and uses a lot more energy than the US due to its shoddy factories and infrastructure. Their pollution rate is still increasing excessively. And their energy sector still isn’t even close to having a majority of renewable resources being used. China isn’t an example to follow.

  • spec9

    It would be interesting to see what the statistics would be with rooftop solar PV added in. I believe it is growing very VERY fast.

    • RobS

      Even better than the numbers with rooftop coal added in ?

  • Bastiat

    That chart is inaccurate. It comes from the FERC (http://www.ferc.gov/legal/staff-reports/2014/may-infrastructure.pdf).

    There has been a 1 coal installation for 925 MW.

    We are winning this battle. No need to LIE and make the numbers look better.

  • Jouni Valkonen

    It is irrelevant to measure installed power in megawatts or gigawatts. The thing that matters most is the electricity produced and measured in GWh.

    And if we want to be precise from economic stand point, we should measure the value of electricity produced in dollars.

    • Shiggity

      It’s a complicated equation because you also have to factor in the time of production and the pricing structure of that specific marketplace.

    • spec9

      Well dollars is a bad measure since emissions-free solar & wind electricity is more valuable than coal generated electricity.

      • Jouni Valkonen

        That is true. We should perhaps use some other unit than dollar for measuring the VALUE. But we do not have one.

    • RobS

      The topic of the article is US capacity installations, which makes installed capacity really the only thing that matters. If you would like to write an article about production then the latest EIA EPM was just released, similarly if you want to write about the relative cost and “value” of each Kwh generated by different means you are welcome to do so but they are different topics to the one being discussed here, this one may be “irrelevant” to you, it’s not to many others.

      • Jouni Valkonen

        The point was that it is irrelevant to all. If you think that you can extract some useful information from this article, you are dead wrong and do not really understand how electricity markets operates.

        This is just typical case how the statistics are used for misleading purposes in order to give false impression that renewables would be more important than they actually are. This kind of misleading information gives just free targets for the renewable energy critics.

        • RobS

          This has got to be one of the most ignorant posts I have ever read. You may be completely oblivious to what an average capacity factor and the fact that it allows you to determine the likely a output of a power plant over time based on its installed capacity. Most who read this site and this article are not. Aside from the fact that such information can be easily extrapolated if one understands the way the power market operates, the fact that gigawatts of wind and solar capacity are being added each year whilst almost nobody is installing fossil fuel capacity (and in fact when combined with the EIA data which shows gigawatts of coal capacity are actually being decommissioned each year) may give you false impressions and mislead you in your ignorance, I and most others understand its significance. So if you find this article meaningless I suggest that is a deficiency in your understanding not in this articles purpose or content.

          • Jouni Valkonen

            With renewables, storage is getting more and more important. Therefore installed capacity gets more and more irrelevant.

            Renewables are not following the same old logic as traditional coal and nuclear powered grid, where we used to think in terms of installed capacity.

            For example, with wind power, the median power is the most important. Peak power production can always be curtailed, if it does not fit into grid or storages.

            With roof-top solar power on the other hand, storage is absolutely essential. And e.g. Germany is starting a push with roof-top solar storage. Therefore the produced solar energy matters.

            Also it is good thing to keep in mind to you do not know even in accuracy of ±2 %-units what is the average capacity factor of solar if solar panels are faced into into west in order to have best fit for peak demand off-set.

          • RobS

            Storage is an R&D technology, there is effectively none on major grids and what little there is are pilot implementation research projects not commercial installations. We are just starting to see the first glimmer of storage appearing in remote and island micro grids like the King island Renewable Energy Integration Project on King Island Tasmania Australia http://www.kingislandrenewableenergy.com.au

            To argue that installed capacity of renewables is irrelevant because of storage is as intellectually credible as arguing anthropomorphic CO2 emissions are now controlled because I planted a new tree in my backyard yesterday. Storage absolutely will change the equation but it hasn’t ye, and won’t for some years and even when it does the installed capacity of renewables and conventional generators available to fill that storage will still be a relevant and informative metric.
            I absolutely agree median output from renewables is the most important metric and Wind on the medium to long term scale reliably runs at 30-40% of peak capacity and solar consistently produces 18-22% of its installed peak capacity. It is this fact that makes installation data relevant.

          • Jouni Valkonen

            It is not that straight forward. E.g. In Germany wind power has c. 17–19 % average capacity factor and median power even lower. In united States average capacity factor is around 28 %. Where as in some Australian wind farms capacity factor exceeds well 40 % and is closer to 50 %.

            Therefore in real life we really cannot say much from installed capacity of wind power. Things are not simpler, because we do not have even statistics available for median wind power production.

            Solar power is similarly problematic, because like I said above, we can get better fit for peak demand off-set if solar panels are facing west rather than south. This makes installed capacity rather irrelevant because we do not even try to opimize the peak power. But we should have as smooth as possible daily production curve.

            And of course grid storage markets are growing exponentially and Germany already started a push with solar storage. Due to new battery incentives, roof-top solar with storage is already cheapest electricity that German household can buy. This is lot more than off-grid solutions for remote equatorial Island.

          • RobS

            It is your prerogative to dismiss it and obfuscate, the reality is the FERC energy infrastructure updates are a widely read and utilised report providing monthly data on the changing make up of the US grid generation infrastructure. That data is useful and informative to thousands of analysts and is used for a range of other reports to predict and respond to the rapidly changing grid. Whether or not you believe it is irrelevant is really the irrelevant thing because it is clearly not irrelevant to the industry and its analysts and not to many interested observers on these sites. You point out how it is median production which is most important then try to dismiss this report by talking about all sorts of red herrings like the minis use proportion of solar panels which are positioned facing west or the currently unmeasurable contribution of grid level storage infrastructure. The monthly utility capacity factors reported in the EIA EPM take all these things into account because they don’t care about the detail they merely compare reported installed capacity with reported real world production, the noise from such minute details becomes absorbed and factored into the resulting number. Yes that means that not every MWh of installed capacity is exactly equal to every other MWh because of technological and geographical variables, however to then leap to the conclusion that installed capacity data is therefore entirely meaningless is simply ridiculous.

          • Jouni Valkonen

            Until I reply you, please try to divide you text into paragraphs. Your rant is unreadable at that form.

          • RobS

            It is your prerogative to dismiss it and obfuscate, the reality is the FERC energy infrastructure updates are a widely read and utilised report providing monthly data on the changing make up of the US grid generation infrastructure. That data is useful and informative to thousands of analysts and is used for a range of other reports to predict and respond to the rapidly changing grid. Whether or not you believe it is irrelevant is really the irrelevant thing because it is clearly not irrelevant to the industry and its analysts and not to many interested observers on these sites. You point out how it is median production which is most important then try to dismiss this report by talking about all sorts of red herrings like the miniscule proportion of solar panels which are positioned facing west or the currently unmeasurable contribution of grid level storage infrastructure. The monthly utility capacity factors reported in the EIA EPM take all these things into account because they don’t care about the detail they merely compare reported installed capacity with reported real world production, the noise from such minute details becomes absorbed and factored into the resulting number. Yes that means that not every MWh of installed capacity is exactly equal to every other MWh because of technological and geographical variables, however to then leap to the conclusion that installed capacity data is therefore entirely meaningless is simply ridiculous.

          • Jouni Valkonen

            Until I reply you, please try to divide you text into paragraphs. Your rant is unreadable at that form. . .

          • RobS

            Paragraphs are for seperate arguments, I am making one therefore keeping it as one paragraph is entirely grammatically appropriate. Your inability to handle an entirely average paragraph is not my problem. Also particularly ironic that your grammatical request contains at least 6 grammatical and spelling errors.

            The thrust of my argument; whether you think this report is irrelevant is the irrelevant thing, thousands of analysts and at least as many interested observers refer to it regularly to gain insight into rapid changes in the make up of US grid infrastructure. If it is irrelevant to you I don’t understand why you bothered to come here and say so, do you not have better things to do then carry on arguments about how irrelevant things are that other people find relevant? I and thousands of analysts find this report adds to our understanding of a topic of interest to us, if it does not do that for you why don’t you go find something that does interest you and discuss that?

          • Bob_Wallace

            No name calling

          • Jouni Valkonen

            er… you should have addressed that to RobS…

  • JamesWimberley

    “The fastest growing sector is still natural gas.” No. It’s only the largest component of growth by volume. Since the installed base for NG is much, much bigger (450 GW in 2011 vs. 62 GW for non-hydro renewables – link) the growth rate is much lower than for solar and wind.

  • vensonata

    Whatever happened to “negawatts”, the cheapest, most maintenance free and reliable form of energy. Negawatts should be listed because of the astonishing fact that we do not need to “replace” coal, we can eliminate the need through efficiency. Let me give you an example: “passive house” standards reduce energy use by up to 90%: California as a state uses 50% of the average electric demand of the rest of the U.S.; most of the advanced European countries also use 50% or less of U.S. standards. By the way you don’t miss anything, it is just good design, well engineered appliances, and the ability to do primitive arithmetic so you don’t buy the ‘cheapest’ sticker price, but pay through the nose over the long term.

    • spec9

      negawatts are hard to track. They merely show up as flat or reduced demand.

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