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Renewable Capacity Moves Ahead Of Coal In The U.S.

The revolution in renewable power hit a new milestone in April. Last week the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) released it’s latest Energy Infrastructure Update (EIU), with data through April 2019.

According to a press release by the non-profit SUN DAY Campaign, which analyzed the data, “that was enough to push renewable energy’s share of total available installed U.S. generating capacity up to 21.56%. By comparison, coal’s share dropped to 21.55% (down from 23.04% a year ago).”

The press release also notes that:

FERC only reports data for utility-scale facilities (i.e., those rated 1-MW or greater) and therefore its data does not reflect the capacity of distributed renewables, notably rooftop solar PV which – according to the EIA – accounts for approximately 30% of the nation’s electrical generation by solar. That would suggest that solar capacity is now actually 4% – or more – of the nation’s total and could increase by more than 20,000 MW by May 2022.”

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While the EIU indicated a statistical dead heat for capacity between coal and renewables, the trends are crystal clear. Recent history and the foreseeable future will see renewables and natural gas continue to gain market share at the expense of coal. According to the EIU, net capacity additions between now and May 2022 will be dominated by renewables:

Additions and retirements by 2022

Of course it’s important to note that capacity doesn’t equal generation. Because of the intermittent nature of renewables, coal still generates more electricity than renewables. But, the trends indicate it’s just a matter of time before that picture changes as well. Related: Are Oil Prices About To Bounce Back?

But it is natural gas that is still the king of generation. Although renewable capacity additions are forecast to be well ahead of natural gas additions through 2022, it is likely that natural gas will continue to be the top source of U.S. power for quite some time. The EIU indicates that natural gas now represents 44.44% of total installed capacity:

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Total available installed generating capacity

Because of the higher capacity factors for natural gas-fired generation, Energy Information Administration data show that natural gas provided 36% of U.S. power over the past 12 months, well ahead of coal’s 27%. Further, the share for natural gas has grown in recent years, while that of coal continues to decline.

But given the current trends, it won’t be long before renewables supply the largest share of U.S. power.

By Robert Rapier

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