News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

Report: Renewable Energy Installations Account for 46 Percent of Newly Installed U.S. Electric Capacity


Rooftop solar demonstration project | Photo: Penn State/Flickr/Creative Commons License

According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), renewable energy projects -- including solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal and biomass -- made up almost half of all new power generation installations in the U.S. in the first 10 months of 2012. FERC, in its most recent "Energy Infrastructure Update," reports that from January through October 2012 renewable energy installations accounted for 46.22 percent of all newly installed electrical generating capacity.

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Compare that to the totals for new natural-gas-fired installations: Even in this time of plummeting gas prices prompted by the controversial practice of fracking, new gas-fired power plants accounted for only 5.7 gigawatts of new capacity, or 37.8 percent of the total for the year. New coal plants built in 2012, of which there are three, total 2.27 gigawatts or 15.1 percent of new capacity, while nuclear and oil-fired plants together account for less than one percent of new capacity.

On the renewables side, wind led in newly installed capacity, unsurprising what with the looming expiration of the federal Wind Production Tax Credit as developers rushed to get long-term projects installed before the deadline, sometimes prompted more by federal incentives than actual wind resources. Altogether, 5,403 megawatts of new wind generating capacity were installed in the U.S. in 2012 -- 35.8 percent of all new capacity. (And we'll see whether much of that new capacity actually delivers, given that note about actual wind resources.)

Solar power projects accounted for just over a gigawatt of new capacity in 2012, or just under seven percent of the total. Hydro, geothermal, and biomass together accounted for 544 megawatts of new production capacity, about 3.6 percent of the total.

If you count that in terms of increase over the previous year, it's clear solar had the best 2012. Solar power capacity increased by 133 percent over last year, while wind increased by just under 18 percent, an indication of just how far solar has to go to catch up. Add to FERC's totals the solar it didn't include, mainly consisting of small rooftop solar installations, and this has been a very good year for solar indeed.

Advocates of renewable energy development are cheering the news. "The continued strong growth by renewable energy sources for electrical power generation over the past four or five years vindicates the investments made in these technologies," said Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. "Moreover, their rapid expansion underscores their near-term viability for ultimately phasing out both fossil fuels and nuclear power."

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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