Biomass

Published on July 6th, 2015 | by Zachary Shahan

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Solar + Wind = 74% of New US Electricity Capacity January–May 2015 (Exclusive)

July 6th, 2015 by  

US renewable energy electricity capacity May 2015Wind power and solar power are increasingly the most cost-competitive options for new electricity generation, and the installation numbers for the first 5 months of 2015 are just another way of showing that.

Based on data from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and SEIA/GTM Research, I’ve just produced my latest CleanTechnica report on the US electricity generation capacity market. The biggest highlight, as you can see in the title, is that 74% of new US electricity generation capacity added in January–May of 2015 came from wind and solar power. Renewables as a whole accounted for 75% of new electricity generation capacity.

In May 2015, renewables (entirely solar and wind power) accounted for 49% of new electricity generation capacity, down a bit fro previous months due to a large influx of new natural gas power capacity.

US Renewable Energy Capacity - May 2015

While solar and wind are rocking it in 2015, it’s important to note that they still just represent 7.6% of all US electricity generation capacity, and their percentage of electricity generation is even lower (report forthcoming now published). Overall, all renewables now account for 18% of US electricity generation capacity.

There are various reasons why wind and solar power are dominating new US electricity generation capacity, but the big one is that they are often the cheapest option. For more on that topic, see:

Solar & Wind Power Prices Often Lower Than Fossil Fuel Power Prices

World’s Cheapest Solar Power Lands In Austin, Texas — Under 4¢/kWh! (Sort Of)

Wind Energy Costs Super Low, Despite Heartland Shenanigans (Chart & Graphs)


 

Note that my rooftop solar power numbers for January through March were revised a bit after GTM Research and SEIA released their latest quarterly US Solar Market Insight report. Informed estimates for April and May rooftop solar power additions were then added as well. (*Nuts and bolts of some of the work required to create this report are below.)

As far as I know, I’m the only one who creates a comprehensive electricity generation capacity report like this for the entire United States. I started doing so because FERC and others were reporting utility-scale solar capacity in the context of all electricity generation capacity as if it were all solar power. With the rooftop solar market a substantial part of the solar market, and growing fast, I felt a need to fill the gaps. I look forward to seeing where things stand at the half-year mark! Chime in below to carry on the conversation.

*Utility-scale solar capacity data is retrieved from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), while GTM Research is kind enough to share rooftop as well as utility-scale data. However, differently sized installations are used in FERC’s and GTM Research’s utility-scale solar categories, and FERC uses MWac while GTM Research uses MWdc. So, I first convert GTM Research’s numbers to MWac (using different rules of thumb for rooftop versus utility-scale solar), then subtract the FERC total from that total to come up with the rooftop solar number. There are several reasons why I do it like this, but I’ll leave the explanation at that unless you want to know more.


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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed 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, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. 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.



  • AAron Hinman

    If you add in capacity factors, solar and wind drops to below 1/3rd of
    new capacity. Nowhere near 75%. It’s difficult to imagine why
    Cleantechnica would continue refusing to mention capacity factors in
    articles like this unless it’s a deliberate decision.

    • Bob_Wallace

      No, AAron. New wind farm capacity is generally above 40% with some farms reporting over 50%. Much of the solar is going in with tracking and returning CF numbers over 20%, as much as 30%.

      The CF for other generation is not 100%. Coal is under 60%, natural gas is under 30% (2011 and 2012 numbers).

      Most of us are aware of the CF numbers so that tends to be left out. And, as you can see the difference between renewables and fossil fuels is nowhere as extreme as you state.

      The important issue covered in this article is not the percentage of power produced by each source, but how energy money is being spent. 74% of energy investments during the period went into wind and solar.

  • alex

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  • JamesWimberley

    Thanks are due to Zach from the clean tech community for providing these important numbers.

    It really should not be necessary if the EIA did its job, instead of wasting our time with laughable forecasts.

  • Andrew Singleton

    How about retroactive data of the same categories so we can get some YOY action? those are hard to find based on factual data.

    • Yeah… I’d need to get solar numbers from GTM Research. I have them for the end of 2014, but not the beginning.

  • Keanwood

    Always good news to look at the FERC data. And thank you for trying to add rooftop in there.

    Oh and a shutout to Bob here. (Or anyone else too) I’ve been updating the Wikipedia page for LCOE. Trying to get sources for LCOE numbers to make the page more up to date. There is a lot of old info there and I can’t remove it unless I have something to replace it with. So if you could point me in the direction of some good estimates I would greatly appreciate that.

      • Keanwood

        Yeah the Lazard data will be a good addition. I updated the EIA from 2014 to 2015 and it just felt wrong even writing those numbers down. $125/MWh in 2020? That’s a dirty lie. Haha

        • Bob_Wallace

          Can you put in a note that alerts people to the illogical numbers that the EIA publishes year after year?

          Point out that the EIA’s numbers predict an enormous increase in the cost of wind and solar when the the DOE predicts continuing price drops.

        • Here’s a letter to the EIA about its forecasts that a few people here wrote: http://cleantechnica.com/2014/01/10/horrible-eia-forecasts-letter-cleantechnica-readers/

          If useful…

          But yeah, I’d go with Lazard, or just about anyone else over the EIA.

          • Frank

            Nice letter. Here is another suggestion. How about they go to eia power monthly, and take a look at those two graphs showing planned generating unit additions, and retirements.

    • Bob_Wallace

      You might dig something useful out of this (copied from my notes)

      An analysis of the Vogtle reactor costs by Citigroup in early 2014 found the LCOE for electricity from those reactors will cost 11 cents per kWh (subsidized). That is assuming no further cost/timeline overruns.

      They also stated that reactors built after the Vogtle units would likely produce more expensive electricity as they would not be able to receive the low financing rates as Vogtle has obtained.

      http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/citigroup-says-the-age-of-renewables-has-begun

      Following the Citigroup study it was announced that the Vogtle reactors would be delayed at least an 30 additional months. The cost of this delay will cost $2 million per day.. That additional cost will push the final cost well over 13 cents per kWh.

      http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NN-Start-date-delay-for-Vogtle-units-3001158.html

    • Bob_Wallace

      Thank you very much for your updating work.

      Anything you could do to point out the problem with the EIA data would be helpful. A lot of people go to that page and come away with unrealistic costs for wind and solar. Just today someone used the EIA wind price as “fact” on The Hill, a major political news site.

      We aren’t going to get good decisions if people use bogus data.

      • Matt

        So both EIA and IEA are both used by governing bodies to plan policy. And they both appear unable to give any PV/wind data that isn’t at least two years old. A big question become how to move them into the present so that they stop acting as a break on RE?

        • Bob_Wallace

          How about contacting your Representative and or Senators and ask them why EIA is so out of date and their predictions so obviously incorrect? Ask them if they use EIA data in decision making or if they use more reliable sources.

          • JamesWimberley

            If Congress did its job, they would hold hearings and make Moniz sweat over the EIA’nts systematic failures over to renewables.

            My suggestion is to predict the present by extrapolating the recent past, crosschecked against hard contractual anecdata like Austin, Dubai, SolarCity financial reports.

    • Ivor O’Connor

      Links to the Wikipedia pages in question please. I have never been happy with the Wikipedia’s for renewable energy. I used to update Wikipedia pages in the 2005 era but back then it was too frustrating. So I gave up telling myself I’d never try to help the Wikipedia project again. Just recently though I updated something somewhere. It seems much better now so I’m up to trying again…

      Update: Just this one https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cost_of_electricity_by_source ?

      • Keanwood

        Yep that’s the one. I wasn’t going to bother with any other pages.

        • Ivor O’Connor

          Ok, I read a little and looked for references, then book marked the page. I’m surprised people like Bob with hundreds of pages of references hasn’t been drawn to. He could keep his most interesting factoids on Wikipedia…

          • 😀 @Bob_Wallace:disqus!

          • Bob_Wallace

            Oh, man!

            That wears me out just looking at it. I need a nap.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’m on overload. I’ve thought about editing Wiki, but I have to limit at least a bit.

  • Ivor O’Connor

    Looking forward to the forthcoming apples to apples comparison

    While solar and wind are rocking it in 2015, it’s important to note that they still just represent 7.6% of all US electricity generation capacity, and their percentage of electricity generation is even lower (report forthcoming).

    • Unfortunately, the data for that one is even harder to acquire and comes in several months after the fact, but hope to do it tonight.

      • Keanwood

        I like looking at the EIA total energy primary consumption by source, but they are incredibly slow at releasing the data. Its measured in quads so it not directly translatable to electricity.

        • JamesWimberley

          Yes it is. You can find energy conversion calculators easily on the Web. 1 quad = 293 terawatt-hours or 0.293 petawatt-hours.

          • Keanwood

            I don’t believe it works in the real world though. The quad is a measure of heat. One quad of coal will give us less electricity than a quad of solar or wind. Yes both will generate the same amount of total energy. But the usable energy will be different. A good example is oil and transportation. In 2014 the USA used 34.78 quads of oil. If those cars were electric we wouldn’t need nearly that many quads to power them.

            Unless I’m really offbase and misunderstanding something that is how it works, so we can’t really compare quads to watt hours.

          • Frank

            The quad of coal or gas burned when generating electricity is the input, like the amount of energy in the wind blowing through the turbine blades, or the energy in the sunlight shining on solar panels. The only reason for quads is that it is a common unit, and its easy to count, but it’s comparing inputs to outputs, so the comparison is not very useful.

          • Keanwood

            “…like the amount of energy in the wind blowing through the turbine blades, or the energy in the sunlight shining on solar panels.”

            Are you sure about this part? I was really under the impression that, for sources of power that are not burning something to create heat, a quad is measured by its actual electric output and then converted to quads.

            Yes for coal, oil and gas, they burn it and measure the total heat output. So if an engine is 30 percent efficient, and they burn one quad, you only get .7 quads of electricity. But I believe a quad of solar is the same as a quad of electricity.

            The only thing I could find from the EIA is this “Appendix F
            Alternatives for Estimating Energy Consumption” located here: http://www.eia.gov › data › annual › pdf › sec17

            It seems to say they are not measuring the way you say they are.

          • Frank

            That isn’t how I meant it. Comparing the BTU inputs from burning coal to produce electricity, to the BTUs of electricity coming out of a solar plant is silly. You could compare it to an estimate of the BTU’s in the sunlight hitting the pannels, but even that isn’t that interesting to me. BTW, if the engine is 30% efficient, I think you would get .3 quads of electricity, not .7 quads.

          • Keanwood

            Lol yes .3 not .7. Haha how did I miss that.

            I think we both understand what what we are saying and are both right. Just looking at it differently. The way way the EIA publishes it though is weird. For coal the BTU are measured as input where for solar they are measured as output. Since they are measured deferently it cause comparison problems.

          • Ulenspiegel

            Primary energy is in case of coal power plant with efficiency of 40% is of course 2.5 time higher than final energy.

            In case of wind both numbers are the same.

            The situation would become better if there are clear statements whether we are talking about primary energy or final energy.

            The units do not matter, however, kWh, TWh and others are catchy because you have the rated power in MW and full-load hours which give easily to calculate energy units and 1 liter oil are 10 kWh, 1 cubicmeter NG, too.

    • Dag Johansen

      Yeah, the capacity factor is much lower for solar & onshore wind. So we need to keep adding it like crazy. And start pushing on offshore wind which has a higher (40%) capacity factor. And eventually add storage (which will hopefully come down in price). And a few nukes, IMHO.

      • Ivor O’Connor

        Naw, no nukes. Offshore wind is getting close to 60% but when adding in all the old turbines it might average out to 40%. Batteries do not play a factor in how much electricity was actually produced. Of course the capacity of PV is much lower than 40%. Average solar and wind together and the capacity factor might only be 20-30%. I’m looking forward to the day, hopefully not more than a decade away, where headlines like this state 99% of new electricity capacity is solar and wind!

        • JamesWimberley

          The capacity factor of open-cycle gas turbines in the US is 5 – 10% according to the

          • Ivor O’Connor

            I can believe that since they are only used for peak power scenarios. Cheap, dirty and expensive.

          • Adrian

            This is why peak demand power is so expensive, sometimes $200/MWh+. It is great incentive for demand-response programs when the local utility just delivers power, rather than generates it. Those “Negawatts” can be very valuable!

          • I was wondering about natural gas and almost asked about that. Any idea what overall natural gas capacity factor might be (everything together) — whether for new capacity or total capacity? My guess is that we simply don’t have enough data/info to estimate.

          • Bob_Wallace

            In 2011 it was 24.2% and in 2012 it was 28.8%. I haven’t bothered to calculate since then. I took the “summer capacity” number from the EIA and their EOY total generation number.

          • Thanks.

            Wondering about all of the new capacity. Curious if it is mostly replacing coal or being used for peak demand.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Impact is showing.

      Impact is growing….

  • Adrian

    Without the general public even noticing, it seems like the clean evolution is well underway. A quick perusal of the EIA “planned additions” report seems to confirm that there are a lot of solar and wind projects in the development pipeline, and it seems with every update there are more of them. And of course the “retirements” report is dominated by coal.

    Now, how to get to the “next gear” and speed the transition along?

    • “Without the general public even noticing…” Ha, yeah. Imagine the results if you polled the public about this topic….

      SEIA & GTM Research project exponential solar growth. EIA doesn’t seem to get this. Going to be exciting to watch.

    • Bob_Wallace

      There are a couple of things I think we could each do which might speed up the process.

      Inform others about the external cost of coal (and other fossil fuels). If people understood that we are spending hundreds of billions of dollars a year simply because coal and oil pollution makes us ill and kills some of us then we might create a little more pressure to switch to renewables.

      Watch for examples of how wind and solar are starting to make electricity cheaper in places that have a installed a lot. Help people understand that renewables can help keep more money in their pockets.

      Do stuff like comment on other web sites and on your local newspaper/EV web page when appropriate.

      I think most people understand the climate/cleaner air stuff. But I don’t think many know about the potential economic benefits for them, personally.

      • An interesting one in a video interview I’ll be publishing sooner or later (hopefully sooner): in Amsterdam, they lose a year of their life (on average) because of air pollution. (I don’t know the study source, but anyway.) And that’s perhaps the best big bike city in the developed world!

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