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100% of New U.S. Electricity Capacity Came From Renewables in 3 of the Last 10 Months

100% of New U.S. Electricity Capacity Came From Renewables in 3 of the Last 10 Months

Written by Zachary Shahan

The tides are a-shifting. Renewables may not dominate the electric grid yet (far from it), but they are growing fast. In three of the last ten months, renewable energy accounted for 100% of new electricity capacity twice and 99.3% once (I rounded up in the title for brevity’s sake).

These weren’t just blips. Wind power was the #1 source of new electricity capacity in 2012 and solar power was #2 in 2013. Aswind power andsolar power have gotten cheaper, they have become cost-competitive, even while leaving the market price of fossil fuel externalities at $0.

Looking at the most recent month, July, utility-scale wind power plants added 379 megawatts of capacity and utility-scale solar power plants added 21 megawatts (FERC, the source of the data, doesn’t include rooftop solar figures).

Last November, it was solar leading the way at 177 megawatts, followed by biomass at 108 megawatts, wind at 81 megawatts, geothermal at 25 megawatts, and then water at 4 megawatts.

October saw 504 megawatts of solar added, 124 megawatts of biomass, 66 megawatts of wind, and just 5 megawatts of oil.

Those were the top months as far asrenewables are concerned, but you’re probably wondering about the bigger picture. The bigger picture in 2014 shows a lot of natural gas being added, which gets talked up time and time again in the mass media, but solar power and wind power together have added more capacity this year than natural gas (or fossil fuels on the whole). Here’s a chart of new capacity (in megawatts) for January through July:


Putting all of this into even more perspective, here are a few points to remember: solar and wind power costs keep coming down; 2014 is a very weak year for wind power in the US because wind developers are mostly preparing projects (simply starting them) with the plan to finish them in a future year (I won’t discuss the complexity of the matter here but it concerns Congress and tax credits); this doesn’t include rooftop (even commercial rooftop) solar power, which is a sizable percentage of the solar power market. Furthermore, natural gas prices won’t stay low forever. It is a limited resource and many think natural gas prices will go up fairly soon.

But taking even one more step back, we still have a ton of work to do. The total US power capacity split at the end of July 2014 is as follows:


Needless to say, we need a lot more months like last month, and a lot of coal and natural gas power plant retirements!

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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1:23AM PST on Nov 19, 2014

Live long and prosper

4:27AM PDT on Sep 10, 2014

Brian F.,
Yes, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is increasing. It will likely keep increasing for several decades, possibly centuries, depending on how we act. During the time that CO2 level have increased 42%, global temperature rose 0.8C. If one were to assume that all the temperature rise was a result of this rise, then the climate sensitivity would be 1.6C/doubling of CO2. Several different scientific studies have placed this value anywhere from 0.25 up to 5.0, with no solid estimate, or a firm conviction that it is even linear.

At our current rate of increase, we should reach 580 ppm, doubling of pre-industrial levels, in about 60 years - assuming we do not curtail emissions significantly or engage in radical reforestation. Therefore, the maximum temperature rise that could be expected by the year 2075 would be another 0.8C. However, this neglects all other factors influencing the recent temperature rise, such that the actual increase should be much lower. More likely the temperature will continue to rise at its long-term rate of 0.6C/century, and rise another 0.35C by 2075.

6:24PM PDT on Sep 9, 2014

Joseph G.,
I did not include the old nuke plants because they are cost prohibitive. Just like thermal solar and offshore wind.
The stats I gave were averages generated by the US government. I stated that prices were site-specific. Whether you choose to believe the US government, its environmental or energy agencies is up to you. You are certainly welcome to pull numbers out of one of your orifices, but without a link to a reputable sire (like I supplied), do not expect others to believe them. Criticizing figures, because you do not like them indicates bias, not an open, honest mind. It is your choice though.

5:36PM PDT on Sep 9, 2014

Dab Bs.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I am questioning every stat you offer. How many acres per generator is a valid question. cannot find anyone who supports your "standards". I find widely disparate numbers of KW/acre depending on the site (and, assuredly, the engineering).

Which leads me to the observation you must squat over your hat before you retrieve your "data" therefrom.

4:55PM PDT on Sep 9, 2014

Dan B The World Meteorological Organization has finished compiling the data for 2013, and on average CO2 levels in the atmosphere reached a record 396.0 parts per million (ppm). That's 2.9 ppm higher than in 2012. It might not seem like much if you don't realize just how big the Earth's atmosphere is in volume, how much carbon ends up in sinks like the oceans, and how many billions of tonnes of carbon this represents. The surge from 2012 to 2013 is actually the largest year-to-year increase since 1984, when reliable global records began. In 2013, concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was 142% of the pre-industrial era (1750), and of methane and nitrous oxide 253% and 121% respectively. Things are not as rosy as you think they are.

4:12PM PDT on Sep 9, 2014

David F Many more bird deaths are caused from dirty coal and nuclear power plants.
Wind farms are responsible for roughly 0.27 avian fatalities per gigawatt-hour (GWh) of electricity while nuclear power plants involve 0.6 fatalities per GWh and fossil-fueled power stations are responsible for about 9.4 fatalities per GWh. Within the uncertainties of the data used, the estimate means that wind farm-related avian fatalities equated to approximately 46,000 birds in the United States in 2009, but nuclear power plants killed about 460,000 and fossil-fueled power plants 24 million.
To recap, about 46,000 avian mortalities were associated with wind farms across the United States in 2009 but nuclear plants killed about 458,000 and fossil-fueled power plants almost 24 million.

2:57PM PDT on Sep 9, 2014

The Smithsonian linked figures that you referred to only speak of bird deaths in the US, 39 million worldwide seems way high to me, I wouldn’t know, but if it was only 20% of that, it would be a lot of birds plus the bats they don’t mention.

1:04PM PDT on Sep 9, 2014

Dan B~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Let's take a look at your beloved Nuclear Power.
A power monopoly named LILCO used to "serve" Long Island, NY. Back 9n the 1960's they began planning a nuke plant at Shoreham, NY, and added the planning costs to their rate requests.
Long story short, the residents rebelled when LILCO factored into a rate increase the cost of "retiring" the plant after it's life expectancy ran out, BEFORE the plant ever went on line. The end result was that the state took over and the plant never powered up.

"For better or worse, the plant lies dormant. Too costly to dismantle, too antiquated to fire up, while taking up valuable real estate and becoming nothing more than the area’s biggest conversation piece. What LIPA’s debt load would look like had Shoreham been green-lighted is open to debate, but one thing is certain: No matter which side won the battle, LI lost the war.

And THAT, Dan, is the TRUE cost of nuclear power.

12:50PM PDT on Sep 9, 2014

Brian F ,
You may be too young to remember the polluted air of the 70s, but I am not. Things are much better today in the first world. The developing world has issue through which they must work. But, we did it. They should be able to follow suit.

12:47PM PDT on Sep 9, 2014

Joseph g.,
I supplied the reference to all those prices. If you have an objection, then supply a link to support your claims. Otherwise, you are just blowing hot air - so to speak.

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