Published on April 12th, 2013 | by Tim Tyler


Solar = 100% Of New Power Capacity In March, Renewables = 82% In Q1

April 12th, 2013 by  

Editor’s note: I write about solar and wind power obsessively, almost every day. Still, FERC’s recent numbers came as a bit of a surprise to me. Over 28% of new US power capacity in Q1 was from large-scale solar installations (small- and medium-scale installations would actually boost solar’s percentage of the pie considerably, but they’re harder to track and count). Wind power accounted for nearly 51% of new power capacity (and this is just after the rush to get projects completed before the wind power production tax credit expired). More details in the post below from Solar Love:

Renewables are leading again. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects has just released a report for the first three months of 2013.

The report is called the “Energy Infrastructure Update” and it shows that renewable energy sources (biomass, geothermal, solar, water, wind) have accounted for 82% of all new domestic electrical generating capacity installed for the first quarter of 2013. The total amount of the combined renewables came in at 1,546 MW.

solar panels

Photo Credit: Port of San Diego / / CC BY

So far this year, coal, nuclear, and oil have provided no new generating capacity, which is good news to say the least. Natural gas came in with 340 MW of electrical generating capacity installed for the first quarter of 2013.

The breakdown of the report put wind energy in the lead for quarter one, with 6 new “units” totaling 958 MW. Second place went to solar, with 38 units totaling 537 MW accounting for over 28% of new power capacity in Q1. (Obviously, this doesn’t include small- or medium-scale solar installations, which account for about half of all US solar power capacity.) During the first quarter of 2012, solar only installed 264 MW, so this year solar has more than doubled its newly installed capacity (537 MW).

The big winner in renewables for the month of March was solar, which produced 100% of the new electrical generation capacity, with 7 new units with a combined capacity of 44 MW in California, Nevada, New Jersey, Hawaii, Arizona, and North Carolina.

In the past couple of years, the installed price of solar has dropped about 40%. This has certainly spurred on a good portion of the growth, but the price is projected to fall much more in the coming years. So what lies ahead?

One of the other key players in the renewable mix in quarter one was biomass, with 28 units that totaled 46 MW. And even water was in the picture for the first quarter, with 4 new units with an installed capacity of 5.4 MW. Geothermal is lagging behind so far this year with no new capacity reported. Here’s a full table:

new power capacity solar us 2013

Nearly 16% of total installed US generating capacity now goes to renewable energy sources. Here’s a break down of the current installed generating capacity from the report:

For a comparison, that is more than these combined:

According to the US Energy Information Administration, the actual net electrical generation from renewable energy sources in the United States now totals a bit more than 13%. (Just a note since generating capacity is not the same as actual generation.)

It is clear, however, that renewable energy sources continue to dominate the new electrical generating capacity being brought on-line in the United States. It seems like with every one of these reports it becomes clearer that coal is slowly fading away and a cleaner future is on its way with renewables.

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About the Author

Holds an electronic's engineering degree and is working toward a second degree in IT/web development. Enjoy's renewable energy topic's and has a passion for the environment. Part time writer and web developer, full time husband and father.

  • Great news

  • It is good that renewables are dominating the additional capacities. We still got a long way to go in diluting the denominator with the numerator to achieve a higher percentage ratio. It would be best to replace or decommission the existing fossil based electric power plant with renewables. It is the existing fossil fuel power plants that are big contributors of greenhouse gasses and other pollution.

    • Fully Agree.

    • Mostly agree, the “best” would include a much bigger push for eff. Think if building codes required net zero (or near net zero) for all new homes, apartments, offices, stores.

    • agelbert

      Agreed but remember the fossil fuel power plant profit margin doesn’t need to get squeezed that much for the model to stop being profitable. By the time renewables exceed 25% penetration, big oil will be feeling a huge amount of pain. Good! The fossil fuel dinosaur is going to collapse sooner than expected simply because investors will see more profit in renewables. Already oil drillers and various corporations associated with fossil fuels are jacking up their dividends to as much as 9%. Why? Besides the above, there are conscience driven divestment campaigns all over the country forcing cities and universities to sell their fossil fuel portion of the stock portfolio used to back up pension funds. High dividends in a low interest rate environment is a sign of corporate desperation to keep investors from selling. It’s crunch time for big oil. I remember in the 1980’s when they dropped the price of oil to peanuts to destroy renewables in the cradle. They can’t even do that now so the future, unless there is some awful nuclear war, looks bright.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Big coal, not big oil – at least in the US. We use very little oil for electricity. But the rest holds.

        In areas that use market order pricing, my take is that “always on” plants such as coal and nuclear make very little money during off-peak hours. If there is enough wind on the grid they may be forced to sell at a loss in order to force wind to curtail.

        Then they rely on high peak hour prices to make up for the loss and to make their profits. Gas peaker electricity can be quite expensive and everyone else supplying during those time blocks get the same price as the peakers.

        With only a modest amount of end-user solar those demand peaks are shaved. (We’re seeing that in Germany.) Those periods of high return get destroyed and coal/nuclear has problems surviving. Apparently a quarter of all US nuclear plants are close to failing due to cheap wind, natural gas and solar.

        • agelbert

          Right about coal. I have a bad habit of grouping all the fossil fuel stuff under the “big oil” name.

          Have you seen that article on a solar powered booster to natural gas plants (to make syngas) so they use 20% less gas to make the same amount of electricity?

          Solar Booster Shot for Natural Gas Power Plants

          • Bob_Wallace

            Yeah, the solar booster was on Green Car Congress…


            Hard to know how large a role NG will play over time. It still produces CO2 and all we need is a good storage system and we could cut the use of NG to a tiny amount. Use it for deep backup when we encounter multi-day periods of little/no wind while needing to supply high peak demand.

            My guess is that we are on way to a grid which is supplied mostly by wind and solar along with significant inputs from geothermal, hydro and tidal. If we use wind and solar when they are available, let geothermal and tidal hum along around the clock and hold back most of our hydro for fill-in purposes then we can really cut a lot of NG out of the loop. That would be a wise thing to do….

          • agelbert

            Agreed. The other day I read (don’t know if it was here or not) that when the nukes got built all over the country, due to the fact that nukes can’t power up or down quickly, a lot of hydro was built to “smooth” the power (hydro providing extra power during peak loads). Isn’t it AMAZING that those very same people would NOT think of the EXACT SAME THING for solar which they could have done as long ago as the 1980s? Telling, isn’t it? Oh, well, now that solar is really cheap, we are eating fossil nuke’s lunch! :>)
            Also, I think EVs will become, like hydro, a “reservoir” of power for the peak power loads around noon (when millions of them will be parked at charging stations) and a smoothed sink for base load at night when other demands are low. We’ll see.

          • Bob_Wallace

            We built about 20 GW of pump-up hydro and a small amount of CAES (compressed air) storage back when we were building reactors.

            That fact, and those costs, are overlooked by the nuclear fan club.

            I suspect most in the energy world agree with you that EVs will play a significant role as “peak supply absorbers”. They should be a very major dispatchable load which grid managers will enjoy having at their disposal. I’m not sure that they will play a role in storage – feeding power back to the grid. EV batteries are likely to much more expensive than utility scale batteries (which don’t have the same size/weight restrictions).

          • Bob_Wallace

            Thinking more about using EVs to store power for the grid…

            That was an appealing idea to me some time back but over time I’ve become less convinced that it is how things will play out. Let’s look at financial factors.

            Storing on EVs. The utility will have to ‘rent’ battery capacity from EV owners. The rent rate will have to cover the shortened lifetime of the battery and replacement batteries will be purchased at retail/dealer prices. The rent rate would have to cover the cost of installing a DC/AC inverter where the EV is normally parked. And the EV owner would have to be paid a decent profit in order to get them to sign up, etc.

            Storing at the utility level. Utilities will probably be able to purchase much less expensive batteries (no weight/size limitations and economy of scale savings). They can purchase the amount of storage they need, place it where they want, and move it around as need arises.

          • You probably read that in a comment from Bob. I remember that comment, as well. And I know Bob is good about bringing that to people’s attention. (Though, might be a few other commenters on here doing so… and now you. :D)

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