Renewables Electricity Capacity in US Now Greater than Nuclear and Oil Combined

by | Dec 5, 2012

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Renewable energy sources accounted for 41.14 percent of new electrical generating capacity installed in October and 46.22 percent for the first 10 months of 2012, according to the latest Energy Infrastructure Update report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects.

In October, 10 new wind power projects (594 MW) came on line, as well as three biomass projects (69 MW), 10 solar projects (59 MW) and one water-power project (5 MW).

During the first 10 months of 2012, 92 wind projects (5,403 MW), 167 solar projects (1,032 MW), 79 biomass projects (409 MW), seven geothermal projects (123 MW) and nine water-power projects (12 MW) have come on-line. Collectively, these total 6979 MW added since the beginning of the year.

By comparison, new natural gas capacity additions since Jan. 1 totaled 67 projects (5,702 MW) or 37.8 percent, while three new coal projects added 2,276 MW, or 15.1 percent. Nuclear and oil represented just 0.8 percent and 0.1 percent of new capacity additions, respectively.

The new renewable energy generating capacity added in 2012 represents a 47.7 percent increase over the level recorded for the same period in 2011, according to FERC. Renewable sources now account for 14.93 percent of total installed US operating generating capacity — more than nuclear (9.27 percent) and oil (4.32 percent) combined.

The FERC study was followed by the most recent Electric Power Monthly report by the US Energy Information Administration, which finds that non-hydro renewables accounted for 5.2 percent of net electrical generation for the first nine months of 2012 — an increase of 13.3 percent compared to the same time period in 2011.

Almost two-thirds (63.44 percent) of the non-hydro renewable electrical generation came from wind, followed by biomass (26.70 percent), geothermal (7.78 percent), and solar (2.08 percent). Solar alone increased by 133.3 percent while wind grew by 17.7 percent. But, according to EIA, these additions understate actual solar capacity gains. Unlike other energy sources, significant levels of solar capacity exist in smaller, non-utility-scale applications, such as rooftop solar photovoltaics.

Combined with conventional hydropower, renewable energy sources for the period Jan. 1 to Sept. 30 accounted for more than 12.2 percent of net US electrical generation.

Comparing the first nine months of 2012 to the same timeframe in 2011, coal used for electrical generation dropped by 16.3 percent, nuclear by 1.1 percent, petroleum liquids by 20.3 percent, and petroleum coke by 35.5 percent. Conventional hydro also declined by 14.5 percent. Among the non-renewable energy sources, only natural gas showed an increase (26.1 percent).

Photo Credit: FERC


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