Published on March 10th, 2015 | by Zachary Shahan


Renewable Energy = 90% Of New US Electricity Generation Capacity In January (Exclusive)

March 10th, 2015 by  

US electricity capacity January 2015Based on data from FERC and educated “other solar” (essentially rooftop solar) estimates from CleanTechnica, we’ve found that 90% of new electricity generation capacity added in the United States in January 2015 came from renewable energy sources. To be more precise, 90% came from solar and wind energy.

The largest source of new capacity came from wind energy (54.7%), rooftop solar was second (26.7%), natural gas was third (10.5%), and utility-scale solar PV brought the rest (8.1%).

Renewables did very well in January 2014 as well. Solar and wind accounted for 94%, while all renewables accounted for 99.9%.

For all of 2014, solar and wind energy accounted for 55% of new US electricity generation capacity, while all renewables together accounted for 57% of new US electricity generation capacity. Natural gas accounted for 42%, coal accounted for 0.6%, nuclear for 0.4%, and oil for 0.3%.

Of course, it’s great to see renewables accounting for the majority of electricity generation capacity growth. Comparing new capacity to cumulative installed capacity (essentially, every power plant in the US that can produce electricity), a couple of key points come out:

  • Renewables are still a small portion of our electricity mix. (Wind = 5.6% and solar = 1.4%, together coming to 7%. All renewables combined = 17.2%.)
  • The trend is very clearly toward renewables.

US Renewable Energy Capacity - Jan 2015


Those are the key findings this month, imho. However, since I am adding rooftop solar estimates to the FERC numbers, some of you probably want to know the assumptions I’m making. In bullet-point format, here are some key things to know:

  • GTM Research projects that 8100 MW of solar PV will be added in the US in 2015.
  • It estimates that 59% of that will be from utility-scale PV, leaving the remaining 41% for “other solar” (commercial + residential, to be precise), which would mean 3321 MW of .
  • However, those numbers are in DC (not AC, which is what FERC reports). There is no across-the-board calculation for converting DC to AC power capacity. GTM Research uses different conversion rates for solar power plants of different sizes (as it should, of course). I am using the conversion rate it uses for solar PV power plants 10 MWac or smaller. This is still quite crude, given that there’s a big difference between a 10 MWac power plant and a 50 kWac power plant, but it is what it is. After converting the annual estimate, I am splitting it up by month of the year, but not evenly — I’m throwing in some general assumptions regarding the rooftop solar installation trend throughout the year.
  • Hopefully the results are very close to reality.
  • For total (cumulative) solar PV capacity, I have end-of-year figures from GTM Research and am adding on the monthly totals from FERC for utility-scale solar and rooftop solar estimates for “other solar.”

Related Stories:

US Solar PV Installations Surpassed 6 GW In 2014 (Charts)

Wind Energy Was Largest Source Of New US Electricity In 2014

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don't jump to conclusions.

  • Larmion

    What’s really interesting here is what this new capacity is for. With electricity demand growing slowly if at all in recent years, a lot of it is due to replace existing (often perfectly serviceable) power stations.

    A nice example, announced today, is this one in Florida:

    Florida Power and Light is trying to purchase a 250MW coal fired power station with which it has a PPA in order to… demolish it (YAY!). Natural gas and renewables are now so cheap that building new capacity is cheaper than using existing, paid off coal plants. That’s a tidal shift if ever there was one.

    The real challenge for regulators will now be to manage this inevitable demise of conventional power plants the right way. The big losers in the current energy climate are coal and nuclear; the order in which they retire will play a huge role in determining the rate at which electricity-related emissions fall in the coming two decades or so. If nuclear goes first, as it looks will happen in parts of the US, coal will have been thrown the lifeline it needs to continue belching out toxic chemicals and carbon dioxide for the next few years.

    Illinois’ proposal for a low carbon portfolio standard is one cheap and effective way of achieving that. Rather than mandating a certain percentage of renewables, it mandates a high percentage of low carbon electricity.

    Given the terrible economics of new nuclear, there’s no risk that this will lead to new nuclear power plants being built. What it will do, however, is tilt the balance among existing power stations away from coal and towards nuclear. All this without harming the renewable energy industry, since such a standard would in effect require all new capacity to be low carbon and thus renewable (as neither nuclear nor ‘clean’ coal are competitive on cost).

    • Bob_Wallace

      About a fourth of US reactors are in trouble. They are, generally, standalone (single reactors at a site). Plants with multiple reactors have lower operating costs and are likely to be competitive with NG, wind and solar.

      The interesting question is how many of the existing reactors can be refurbished so that they can run for an additional 20 years once their 40 year license has expired.

      The Illinois reactors are owned by Exelon. Exelon has been losing money on five or six of their reactors over the last 5+ years. Were it not for the cost of decommissioning we’d like see more reactors closed already.

      • Matt

        Don’t you like that a major reason to keep a reactor going, is you can’t afford to decommission it.

        • Bob_Wallace

          With a worn out wind farm there’s enough value in the recyclable metal to pay for returning the site to original condition.

          And you don’t need to wait 60 years for things to cool down,,,,

        • One of those hidden benefits of the perfect energy source. 😀

        • Philip W

          If it wasn’t so sad I would actually laugh.

    • Neptune

      Nuclear is declining in western countries, but that doesn’t seem to be the case globally. China is building new reactors, and also some other countries like South Korea and UAE.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Nuclear is on a decline globally. It has been declining both in terms of number of reactors and total market share.

        Going forward there are more reactors on the “Likely to close” list than on the “Like to come on line” list.

      • Hermit_Thrush

        Some developing nations are keen to pay very hefty sums to build nuclear in order to get a back door to purposes other than just making electricity.

        Brazil and Iran are cases in point. They clearly want to gain access to the whole fuel cycle as well to enable them to master things like nuclear propulsion and God knows what else.

        That’s unfortunately a breach in the NPT (which they’re signatories of) that also effectively unlocks the trap door to the unspeakable. If you can enrich uranium to power a submarine, you’re already technically in nuclear weaponry breakout territory. No matter what you say otherwise.

        If Brazil can do it without being bothered, why not Iran? And why not Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey -just to name a few – for that matter?

        Bottom line: beware of recklessly peddling the “peaceful atom”; it might blow back on you one of these days.

        • JamesWimberley

          Do you have any evidence that Brazil – with two operating power reactors and a third under construction – has serious ambitions to build atomic weapons? Who would it point them at? How would it deliver them? Where is the huge covert enrichment programme? Iran has enemies (Israel and Saudi Arabia), enrichment centrifuges, and is working on medium-range rockets. However you rate Iranian nuclear goals, the risk they present is orders of magnitude higher than Brazil.

          • Hermit_Thrush

            It’s not a matter of building atomic weapons right now, but to have the capacity to do so relatively quickly if needed.

            Having nuclear reactors to make electricity is just a front. Uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes comes next. Brazil does have uranium enrichment facilities aimed at supplying fuel both for its nuclear power plants (~3% U235) and for nuclear propulsion ( 20% – 90% U235 (?)). That amounts to effectively being able to make a nuke, if it ever chooses to step out of the NPT. Btw, Brazil’s space ambitions aren’t dormant either. Unfortunately, the NPT does possess that loophole ( you can do anything nuclear as long as you can prove you’re not building a nuclear bomb). I guess, imho, that clause was built in on purpose, otherwise which developing country would be interested in going nuclear knowing in advance that it takes so long, costs so much and makes not so much electricity when it’s finally comissioned? And when there are other alternatives costing much less? Prestige? I doubt that.

            The trouble is also a matter of precedent: If Brazil, which is a signatory of the NPT can do all that, then why can’t Iran – which’s been a signatory of the NPT for longer than Brazil – do it too? Both countries officially declare their businessess with nuclear are entirely peaceful. But the story doesn’t end here. Israel isn’t very fond of the Iranian regime, to say the least. But neither is Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states’ elites. And none of them is very fond of Israel either.

            Bottom line: if a country like Brazil manages to acquire nuclear breakout capabilities under the aegis of the NPT, why not Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey as well?

            After the genie is out of the bottle, who’s gonna put it back in?

          • Hermit_Thrush
      • globi

        According to IAEA there was not one single nuclear construction start in Asia in 2014 and 2015. link.
        And globally there were only 3 construction starts in 2014 and 2015.

    • Calamity_Jean

      Thanks for the link to the FPL story. Good news is always welcome.

    • JamesWimberley

      I sympathise with Larmion’s analysis. But the politics are terrible. If American Greens decided to campaign to keep old reactors going (as being better than coal) it would split the movement. The reactors have to close anyway, like the coal plants, so it’s only a question of time. I suggest the right strategy is continued indifference; let the market take its course, as long as no corners are cut on safety. Grumble if you like about the misplaced German priorities to work off steam.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Many of our US reactors are nearing the end of their 40 year license. To extend their life another 20 years would, in most cases, mean some very expensive refurbishing. A number of reactors won’t be worth the cost.

        Falling wind and solar prices along with the chance of cheap storage will mean the end of a lot of the fleet.

        I have a small concern about safety. There was recently an application to cut staffing at reactors in order to lower operating costs. If things are getting so tight they need to eliminate a few salaries then it leaves one wondering what other corners they may be cutting.

        Hopefully if corners are cut and that doesn’t work out well what we’ll have is unscheduled shutdowns rather than an unpleasant meltdown.

  • JamesWimberley

    In terms of effective capacity, new natural gas (say 60% capacity factor) is now about equal to new solar (say 20% capacity factor), and well behind wind (say 45% capacity factor). Using these guesstimates, the continuous equivalents in capacity would be: wind 211 MW, solar 60 MW, gas 54 MW (+ 36 MW available reserve). Not to be taken too seriously. The important thing is the trend. And no new coal.

    • Yeah, very good point and context. I’d love to include something like that in the article, but I’m not sure if there are any solid reports out there on current capacity factors for all of these sources. But I think you make quite good guesses, so thanks for throwing that in here.

  • Martin

    It, the article, stated that Re systems still make only a small percentage of the total energy mix, true, but the so called tipping point, for companies is only 5 %.
    That means if a company does not provide a service or product for 5% of its customers it can expect to loose market share.
    However in some cases some companies will use any means to scare/change/bribe consumers/customers perceptions to keep their market/share.

    • Thanks. Yes. Also, 1% is seen by many as a tipping point when it comes to disruptive technologies, which we believe solar and wind very much are.

      • Bob_Wallace

        My guesstimation is that solar is now than 1% of US electricity consumption if we include what is generated and consumed ‘behind the meter’.

        Wind came close to 5% in 2014. It should easily be over 5% in 2015.

        • I’ve got 0.8% in the electricity report I’m about to publish. Writing the story right now… when I’m not distracted by incoming comments or emails. 😀

          • Bob_Wallace

            I just sent you another email right before seeing this and now I’m adding a worthless comment.

            Staying on top of distracting you …. ;o)

          • LOL, thanks. 😀 I’m too focused to check email, but somehow got distracted enough to come see what’s going on here. 😀

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’ll post the EIA/NREL graph here.

            For 2012 the NREL reported end-user about 2x that of utility.

          • That confuses me. GTM Research & SEIA have utility-scale as much greater than non-utility-scale. You would think that utility-scale plants would also be better optimized to catch the sun. Not sure what’s up there, but I guess my next step is to talk to some people at NREL.

          • Bob_Wallace

            The NREL numbers are from here – page 64.


          • Bob_Wallace

            Found the NREL 2013


            Page 64

            Installed solar –
            PV 12,090 MW
            CSP 908
            Total 13,008

            Total generation with solar 21.074 GWh. That would be 0.52% of total 2013 generation. About 20% higher than the EIA percentage.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Here’s EIA and NREL ‘electricity generated with solar’ updated to include the 2013 data.

            We’ve got two branches of the DOE seemingly telling us something different.

            EIA 9,253 GWh
            NREL 21,074 GWh

            The NREL is reporting 2.3x what the EIA is reporting.

          • drevney

            Could you put it in a figure, if you have the data? Prc. of solar energy production of the total mix for the last decade?

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