Despite coal's dominance, renewables making gains in US

For electric vehicle drivers concerned about "dirty coal" taking away the environmental benefits of electrified transportation, we've found some good news. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has just released its annual report on sources of new energy capacity for domestic electric power plants. Renewable energy accounted for 37.16 percent of new power plant capacity. Natural gas dominated new capacity at 52 percent last year, while old king coal dropped down to just around 11 percent of new capacity. Given the historical make-up of the grid in the US, coal still produced more electricity last year than renewable energy, but FERC's report shows the potential for green energy to play a bigger role in the future.

The latest Energy Infrastructure Update report from the FERC's Office of Energy Projects says that renewable energy (i.e., solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and hydropower) accounted for 5,279 megawatts (MW) of new capacity during calendar year 2013. Solar was the leading renewable energy at 2,936 MW, with 266 new "units" (output power of power plant generators) in 2013; wind was the second highest renewable source at 1,129 MW and 18 units; biomass had 777 MW and 97 new units; water had 378 MW and 19 new units; geothermal steam had 59 MW and four new units.

Not long ago, coal generated over half the energy in the US, but that's been changing.

Not long ago, coal made up more than half of power plant energy generated in the US, but that's been changing as natural gas has taken off and renewables start to grow. Last year, natural gas produced 51.17 percent of new power capacity at 7,270 MW; that was followed by renewable energy at 5,279 MW; then by coal at 1,543 MW and 10.86 percent of the total; waste heat came in at 76 MW (0.53 percent) and oil at 38 MW (0.27 percent). Nuclear energy is included in the report but it appears to be shrinking in its share of the electric grid, producing zero percent of new MW last year. See the press release below for more on the FERC's report.



For Release: Monday, January 27, 2014

Washington DC – According to the latest "Energy Infrastructure Update" report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's Office of Energy Projects, renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) accounted for 37.16% of all new domestic electrical generating capacity installed during calendar-year 2013 for a total of 5,279 MW.

That is more than three-times that provided for the year by coal (1,543 MW - 10.86%), oil (38 MW - 0.27%), and nuclear power (0 MW - 0.00%) combined. However, natural gas dominated 2013 with 7,270 MW of new capacity (51.17%). Waste heat provided the balance of new generating capacity - 76 MW (0.53%).

Among renewable energy sources, solar led the way in 2013 with 266 new "units" totaling 2,936 MW followed by wind with 18 units totaling 1,129 MW. Biomass added 97 new units totaling 777 MW while water had 19 new units with an installed capacity of 378 MW and geothermal steam had four new units (59 MW).

The newly installed capacity being provided by the solar units is second only to that of natural gas. The new solar capacity in 2013 is 42.80% higher than that for the same period in 2012.

For the two-year period (January 1, 2012 - December 31, 2013), renewable energy sources accounted for 47.38% of all new generation capacity placed in-service (20,809 MW).

Renewable energy sources now account for 15.97% of total installed U.S. operating generating capacity: water - 8.44%, wind - 5.20%, biomass - 1.36%, solar - 0.64%, and geothermal steam - 0.33%. This is more than nuclear (9.25%) and oil (4.05%) combined. *

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released its most recent 5-page "Energy Infrastructure Update," with data through December 31, 2013, on January 24, 2014. See the tables titled "New Generation In-Service (New Build and Expansion)" and "Total Installed Operating Generating Capacity" at

* Note that generating capacity is not the same as actual generation. Actual net electrical generation from renewable energy sources in the United States now totals about 13% according to the most recent data (i.e., as of November 2013) provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

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