Data provided by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) forecasts solar power to account for almost two-thirds (66%) of “high probability” additions to installed utility-scale generating capacity in the United States over the next three years. This prediction is based on a review recently released FERC data by the non-profit research firm SUN DAY Campaign.
“The combined generating capacity of solar and wind is now greater than either coal or nuclear power,” said Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “Moreover, if the current trajectory persists or accelerates, generating capacity by the mix of all renewables should overtake that of natural gas before 2030 and possibly much sooner.”
According to the latest issue of FERC’s monthly “Energy Infrastructure Update” (with data through Nov. 30, 2022), high probability additions by solar to U.S. generating capacity between December 2022 and November 2025 will total 72,809 MW. FERC foresees no solar capacity retirements during that time. Such growth would nearly double solar’s share of total available installed generating capacity, increasing it from 78,880 MW to 151,690 MW. (This does not include small-scale, distributed solar capacity.)
In addition, the report shows wind generating capacity would grow by 16,955 MW with 140 MW of retirements. Hydropower is also expected to increase by 819 MW with 46 MW of retirements. While FERC projects 17,260 MW of high probability additions by natural gas, the capacity would be almost entirely offset by 16,954 MW of retirements. Similarly, an expected increase of 2,200 MW in new nuclear capacity would be completely negated by 2,323 MW in retirements. FERC foresees no new coal capacity over the next three years but does anticipate 17,385 MW of retirements, as well as a net decrease of 1,677 MW in oil generating capacity.
Between high probability additions and retirements among all energy sources, FERC projects a net increase of 71,391 MW in installed U.S. generating capacity. In effect, new solar would account for the overall net increase in the nation’s total capacity while new wind capacity would roughly displace the net decreases in fossil fuel and nuclear capacity.
If FERC’s data becomes reality by November 2025, solar and wind will be nearly equal in their shares of U.S. generating capacity at 11.41% and 12.02% respectively. The combination of all renewables — including hydropower, biomass and geothermal — will account for almost one-third (32.54%) of U.S. generating capacity, up from 27.19% today. Meanwhile, the share from natural gas will drop from 44.15% to 41.80%, coal will fall from 17.34% to 15.10% and nuclear from 8.14% to 7.69%. Contributions by oil and biomass would also fall.
Beyond high probability additions, FERC also provides data on “all additions” for each energy source that may be in the three-year pipeline. Solar dominates with 201,637 MW, followed by 67,950 MW for wind. By comparison, natural gas has only 33,547 MW. Hydropower accounts for another 12,400 MW. As a result, it is possible that solar’s expanding share of U.S. generating capacity over the next three years could larger than expected.
The trend lines during the first 11 months of 2022 suggest the higher forecasts for solar and wind may well prove accurate. Through the end of November, renewable energy sources accounted for 72.83% of all new capacity additions in 2022 with solar in the lead (36.53%), followed by wind (35.68%), each surpassing natural gas (27.02%). In the month of November alone, renewables were 98.11% of all new capacity additions with solar at 727 MW, wind at 665 MW and natural gas at 27 MW.
As 2022 ended, the share of U.S. generating capacity provided by utility-scale solar and wind totaled 17.63% (6.27% for solar, 11.36% for wind). That surpassed the installed generating capacity of coal (17.34%), nuclear power (8.14%) and oil (3.01%).