US Renewables Accounted For 81% of New Generating Capacity in 2021, Says SUN DAY Campaign

(Credit: IRENA)

by | Mar 11, 2022

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(Credit: IRENA)

Solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources (biomass, geothermal, hydropower) provided 81.07% of new domestic electrical generating capacity in 2021, according to the SUN DAY campaign, a renewable energy advocacy nonprofit. 

SUN DAY analyzed data from the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission and the Energy Information Administration in a new report on renewables published yesterday. According to the latest issue of FERC’s Energy Infrastructure Update, utility-scale renewable power plants added close to 24,000 megawatts of new generating capacity last year. Of this, solar provided about 13,000 megawatts while wind provided about 11,000 megawatts. Small additions were also supplied by hydropower (28 megawatts), biomass (28 megawatts), and geothermal (25 megawatts). SUN DAY noted that these numbers are preliminary and, in keeping with the experience of previous years, are likely to grow in future assessments.

EIA’s latest Short Term Energy Outlook provides an even higher estimate for 2021: 14,000 megawatts of new wind capacity and 13,000 megawatts of new utility-scale solar capacity. Small scale, distributed solar such as rooftop photovoltaics also reportedly grew by about 5,100 megawatts. 

Contrasting renewables with nuclear, SUN DAY noted that new renewable generating capacity averaged roughly 2,400 megawatts per month — more than the planned generating capacity (2,200 megawatts) of the two as-yet uncompleted reactors at the Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia that have been under construction since 2013.

Taking FERC’s more modest estimate, new renewable capacity was still four times greater than natural gas, which added about 5,500 megawatts in 2021. There was no new nuclear capacity added in 2021 while new oil and coal capacity increased by 19 megawatts and 11 megawatts, respectively. Renewables now provide more than a quarter (25.81%) of total U.S. available installed generating capacity — a share significantly greater than that of coal (18.49%) and more than three times that of nuclear power (8.29%).

A decade earlier, renewables accounted for around 14% of such generating capacity. Renewables growth has been spurred by a nearly three-fold increase in wind’s share of installed generating capacity and a 32-fold increase in solar’s share over the past ten years. Wind grew from 3% to 10% over the period while utility-scale solar grew from 0.17% to more than 5%.

Forecasting growth over the next three years, FERC data suggest that existing wind capacity could grow by nearly 60% while solar capacity could more than triple.

Commenting on the numbers, Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign, stated:

“FERC’s and EIA’s 2021 data once again confirm that the transition away from fossil fuels and nuclear power is well underway, led by the breath-taking growth of solar and wind. Given those agencies’ habit of low-balling renewable energy growth, even their strong forecasts for renewable energy over the next few years are likely to be surpassed.”

Last month, SUN DAY Campaign published a report showing that electricity from renewables exceeded EIA estimates in 2021.

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