On Monday, the US Energy Information Agency released a report on utility-scale electricity capacity additions. The report’s focus was on the significant capacity growth in 2016 – the largest year since 2011. This capacity growth was pushed by natural gas, with wind and solar right behind (this excludes about 7 GW of distributed solar volume). What else was shown in the report are the retirements of capacity – the lower half of the graph in the header image.
When subtracting retirements of coal and natural gas from additions of these fossil fuel sources, we get all the way back to 2009 before capacity additions starts to outpace capacity retirements. In a simple way, all of the utility-scale electricity generation capacity added to the United States grid since 2009 has been clean energy.
The electricity generation industry – mostly in retiring so much coal and replacing it with natural gas – has managed to lower overall emissions by 12% since 2005. During this time, US electricity demand has stayed mostly flat. It was only very recently, 2015 or so, that the volumes of wind and solar power installed became considerable enough to dent the amounts of fossil fuels being burnt – meaning not only has a flat amount of fossil fuels been installed, its also been running less.
According to the raw data – below – feeding the main chart on this article, since 2009 – 80,961 MW of coal and fossil fuel have been added. Concurrently, 80,498 MW of the same sources has been retired. Of the additions – 65,000 MW were natural gas, and of the retirements – 47,000 MW were coal. The pattern is clear – since 2002, coal represents 5.7% of new capacity and almost 50% of retirements (80% of retirements in 2015). At least 14,000MW more of coal will be retiring by 2028.
This does mean much for the electricity generation industry – they are no longer the largest polluters in the country for one.