Wind, solar, natural gas dominate capacity in development

Wind, solar, and natural gas are the three dominant sources in the development pipeline for electricity generation in the US, according to a report from the American Public Power Association.

America’s Electricity Generating Capacity, 2020 Update is the Association’s 14th annual look at the country’s current and future capacity.

Wind, natural gas, and solar projects account for 94% of all capacity under construction, which is consistent with additions over the past five years, of which 97% came from these three resources.

Boost in wind construction

Wind represents the highest share of capacity under construction, with 19,597 MW, which is more than 8,000 MW more than the wind capacity listed as under construction in 2019. The Energy Information Administration cites the production tax credit set to expire at the end of this year as a major reason for this boost. The boost also represents a jump of wind’s capacity from about 31% to nearly 42% of capacity under construction from 2019 to 2020.  

The amount of solar capacity under construction also more than doubled from 2019 to 2020, from 4,685 MW to 9,967 MW.

Fewer overall capacity additions, less variety

While both wind and solar are projected to increase capacity additions, overall capacity additions went down by about 11,500 MW from 2018 to 2019, or about a 40% reduction in these additions.

The report also shows that when compared to 2015, the fuel sources in each stage of development in 2020 are less varied. The report shows that in 2020, wind and solar capacity across development stages has begun to look roughly equal to natural gas, however, sources such nuclear and hydro feature less in the pipeline.

Coal retiring, largely absent from development pipeline

This is the first time the report has shown no coal capacity either under construction, permitted, or pending application. There are 77 megawatts of coal-fired capacity in the proposed stage, which is an uncertain stage and includes capacity that is unlikely to be built. This same amount of capacity was also in the planning stage in 2019.

In 2019, one 17 MW coal generation facility came online in Alaska, representing the sole addition for the source that year. More than 3,800 MW in planned coal-fired capacity additions were canceled in 2019.

Coal-fired plants represented more than three quarters of the capacity that retired in 2019, with 13,666 MW taken offline. Natural gas and nuclear plants represented the bulk of the remaining retirements, with more than 1,600 MW each.

Looking ahead for the next five years, coal, natural gas, and nuclear resources comprise more than 90% of announced retirements through 2024.

Distributed generation

Although most of the report focuses on utility-scale generation, this year’s report also includes a summary of EIA data related to distributed generation capacity from 2018. Across both net metered and non-net metered customers, the EIA reports more than 22,639 MW of DG capacity, the overwhelming majority (20,097 MW) of which is solar PV. At the end of 2018, more than 2 million residential, commercial, and industrial customers had DG that was net metered.