New Electricity Capacity Additions in US 2012

The numbers are in, and they show a dramatic shift away from conventional fossil and nuclear electricity generation and towards generation from renewable sources. The information is from the Office of Energy Projects of FERC, the US federal electricity sector regulator, and from, a watchdog group that tracks US coal plants.

The US installed 10,689 MW of wind last year, more new capacity than any other new source. Second place was natural gas at 8,746 MW, with 4,510 MW of new coal plants, 1,476 MW of new solar capacity, and 543 MW of biomass. There was only 125 MW of new nuclear capacity.

In total, wind additions represented 40.5% of all new capacity added, solar was 5.6%, and biomass was 2.1%. Renewable energy was 48.2% of new capacity added.

On the surface, the new coal additions seemed surprisingly high. But reports that 9,800 MW of coal plants were scheduled to shut down in 2012. Assuming all the scheduled retirements occurred, the installed capacity of coal decreased by over 5,000 MW. The median age of US coal plants is 46 years. Ancient. And that is the median, so half are older than that! No wonder a bunch of them closed. The binder twine and duct tape is wearing out.

New wind additions were 56% higher than in 2011, and new solar additions were 31% higher. The reported solar included only 240 different installations, which suggests that the solar number includes only utility scale solar. Residential and smaller commercial rooftops are clearly not counted, so the actual solar numbers are higher than reported.

Natural gas has about half the carbon emissions of coal, and of course wind and solar have no emissions once they are built. It will take time – coal generated a little over 40% of American electricity in 2011. But as capital stock turns over, lower emission technologies are overwhelmingly dominant.

The US, home of the Tea Party, powerful coal and nuclear lobbies, and a nation that has refused to sign onto international climate treaties
is making a stunningly rapid shift to lower emission technologies in its electricity system.

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