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. As wind power and solar 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 as renewables 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.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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