Renewables supplied 65% of new US utility-scale generating capacity in Q1 2023

Renewables provided almost two-thirds (64.64%) of new US utility-scale generating capacity added in the first quarter of 2023, according to newly released Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) data, which was reviewed by the SUN DAY Campaign.

New utility-scale solar capacity was 2,530 megawatts (MW) or 39.56% of the total – and that doesn’t include small-scale distributed photovoltaics, such as rooftop solar. New wind capacity provided 1,475 MW – or 23.06% of the total. Hydropower and biomass added 100 MW and 29 MW, respectively. New natural gas capacity totaled 2,259 MW (35.32%) and was supplemented by 2 MW of new oil. No new capacity additions were reported for coal, nuclear power, or geothermal.

In the month of March alone, all new capacity additions were provided by only solar (491 MW) and wind (409 MW).

With these latest additions, renewable energy now accounts for 27.67% of total installed utility-scale generating capacity, including 11.51% from wind and 6.67% from solar.

Notably, the share of US generating capacity is growing at a substantially faster rate than FERC had anticipated. In March 2020, renewables’ share of total generating capacity was just 22.74%. At that time, FERC projected that “high probability” additions by solar in the ensuing three-year period would be 24,083 MW. In fact, solar grew by 39,470 MW. Likewise, FERC’s three-year forecast for net “high probability” wind additions was 26,867 MW. Instead, wind expanded by 38,550 MW.

Combined, new solar and wind capacity additions totaled 78,020 MW during the past three years, or 53.13% more than FERC had expected.

For the next three years, FERC is now forecasting 77,594 MW of new “high probability” solar capacity joined by 17,071 MW in net new wind capacity plus 556 MW from hydropower and 2 MW from geothermal.

By comparison, coal capacity is foreseen to drop by 28,507 MW, oil by 1,572 MW, natural gas by 574 MW, nuclear power by 123 MW, and biomass by 103 MW.

If FERC’s projections prove to be accurate, by the end of the first quarter of 2026, renewable energy generating capacity will be more than one-third (33.46%) of the total, with nearly equal shares provided by wind (12.23%) and solar (12.16%). Meanwhile, the shares provided by fossil fuels and nuclear power would all decrease: natural gas from 44% to 41.83%; coal from 17.12% to 14.16%; oil from 2.99% to 2.73%; and nuclear power from 7.97% to 7.63%.

SUN DAY Campaign notes that we should keep in mind the degree to which FERC underestimated wind and solar growth during the past three years, so it’s possible the US generating capacity by the mix of all renewables by spring 2026 could end up being significantly higher than FERC now expects.

SUN DAY Campaign’s executive director Ken Bossong said:

Over the past three years, renewable sources, led by solar and wind, added nearly five percentage points to their share of the nation’s electrical generating. 

If that pace continues or accelerates – as seems likely – renewables will be providing more than a third of total installed generating capacity within the next three years, and quite possibly more.

Read more: Here’s what the US needs to do right now to upgrade the grid

Photo: Lowe’s

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