US Electricity: Solar Up 15%, Wind Up 9%


Published on January 9th, 2020 | by Zachary Shahan

January 9th, 2020 by  

We’ve been writing for a while that solar and wind power are the cheapest options on the market for new power capacity in many if not most places. That is also shown by the power plants that companies across the United States choose to install. While natural gas is still seen as cheaper in certain regions, it is being pushed out as time goes on and as renewable energy costs continue to drop. In the first 10 months of 2019, it had slightly more new installed capacity than renewables, but the end of the year is big for renewables and it’s expected that they finished the year with over 50% of new power capacity (we’ll have the final 2019 numbers in a couple of months).

At the end of 2018, there were still apparently large areas of the US where natural gas had the lowest long-term cost (LCOE) — if you didn’t take the cost of CO2 or other pollution into account. Here’s a detailed map based on research from the Energy Institute of the University of Texas (the data was last updated on Sept 20, 2018):

Here’s the map with a $65/tCO2 price across the country:

You can see that with a modest price on CO2, renewables are cheaper almost everywhere (dominated by utility-scale solar and wind). Even without the price on CO2, renewables had become competitive in what seems like more than half the country. However, new power plants installed in 2019 weren’t necessarily started in 2019. It takes a long time (years) to build a fossil power plant. So, 2019 installations were mostly led by decisions from previous years. Nonetheless, the market had enough sense to install more renewable energy than fossil energy.

Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign, after tracking new power capacity data from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for the first 10 months of 2019, recently noted a few key highlights for the year:

  • 48.45% of new power capacity came from renewable energy
  • 28.55% of new power capacity came from wind energy
  • 18.59% of new power capacity came from solar energy
  • 49.67% of new power capacity came from natural gas
In the interactive chart above, select the dropdown box right under the title to change the timeframe. If the chart doesn’t work on the device you’re using, try a computer that doesn’t fit in your pocket. 

In addition to the matter of new power capacity, the SUN DAY Campaign looked at electricity generation data in the month of October. Crunching some numbers from electricity generation data provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Bossong also noted the following stats:

  • 18.18% of electricity generation came from renewable energy, up from 17.57% of electricity generation in October 2018
  • 8.5% of electricity generation came from wind energy, up 32.8% from October 2018, when it was 7.72% of electricity generation
  • 3.37% of electricity generation came from solar energy, up 21.2% from October 2018, when it was 2.93% of electricity generation
  • Solar output increased 14.59% in January–October 2019 compared to January–October 2018
  • Wind output increased 9.21% in January–October 2019 compared to January–October 2018

Small-scale solar photovoltaics (e.g., rooftop solar systems) alone grew by 19.22% YTD. Compared to all other energy sources, solar-generated electricity has enjoyed the fastest growth rate thus far in 2019.” Natural gas generation grew by 6.71%, nuclear energy generation grew by 0.8%, and coal-generated electricity generation declined by 14.46%.

The end of the year was expected to be big for renewable energy installations, so renewables are expected to surpass natural gas for the full year in terms of new installation capacity. “If I were to predict the final numbers for the year based on the data and trends to date,” noted Bossong, “I think it is highly probable that renewables, dominated by wind and solar, will comfortably take the lead for new capacity added in 2019 and then continue to expand their lead in 2020 and beyond.” 
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About the Author

is tryin’ to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor. He’s also the CEO of Important Media. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA] — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in this company and feels like it is a good cleantech company to invest in. But he offers no investment advice and does not recommend investing in Tesla or any other company.