More than 94% of net new electricity capacity in the USA from renewables in 2017

In 2017, the United States built about 28.5GW of electricity generating infrastructure – 25GW of it utility-scale and about 3.5GW of distributed (<1MW) solar power. Wind and solar were 55.4% of the 28.5GW overall total, and about 49.2% of the utility-scale total (>1MW).
When subtracting the 11.8GW of utility-scale fossil retirements tracked by the EIA, the net new volume of US generation was 16.7GW of generating capacity, with 94.7% of that coming from renewables.
Along with this positive news, are projections that in 2017 the USA lowered its total CO2 emissions by approximately 1% versus 2016’s total. This number is lesser than the years from 2005-2016 when we saw emissions fall an average of 1.6%.
The EIA measures all solar power generation capacity in AC values. Emissions are currently projected by the EIA to increase in 2018.
Specifically focused on utility-scale new generating capacity – renewables totaled 12,321MW of 25,041MW of that new capacity. 6,759MW of the renewables being wind and 5,170MWAC of that solar, with 392MW of ‘other renewables.’ Those totals made renewables 49.2% of new utility-scale electricity generating capacity.
In 2016, an amazing year for clean energy construction in the country, the US installed about 27GW of utility-scale capacity. 62% of that was renewables – 16.7GW. 7.8GW from wind and 7.7GW of solar power were built. The utility-scale renewable volume in 2016 was 35% higher than in 2017. 2016 was a record year for utility-scale solar power installations.
With this net capacity being heavily pushed toward renewables – 16GW+ worth – it seemingly extends the USA’s net new electricity capacity being mostly renewables all the way back into 2003. In both 2016 and 2017, net fossil fuels were about zero on the utility-scale.
For the month of March, 21% of utility-scale electricity came from renewables. A heavy snow pack melting on the west coast driving hydroelectricity, plus an annual wind production peak in March led this value.
In the same month, wind plus solar electricity – for the first time – broke 10% of US electricity usage.
When the eclipse hit on August 21st, California solar power output fell by 60% from its normal production.
Of importance – these are total “capacities” built – not electricity generation. Solar and wind are run for much less per year than new gas plants. For example, the average solar “capacity factor” – % of time running – for new solar power is probably around 20-25%, wind probably around 40-43% and gas 55-60%.
First off, this report isn’t perfect – solar power and wind are both down from their 2016 numbers. 2016 saw approximately 14.5GWDC of solar power installed. In 2017 – with residential and utility-scale down, we’ll probably see the US break 11GW of solar power – but not much further.
On the other hand, when accounting for hardware dying off (mostly coal) – the USA hasn’t really built new fossil fuels since really close to the turn of the millennia. We’re down another 1% in 2017 emissions – from a 13% drop between 2015-2016 – so some progress made. We’re still adding a lot of CO2 to the atmosphere though…so its kinda like destroying our home 1% less than the immense amount of destruction last year.
2018 for solar power is a cloudy prediction still – as we don’t know how Suniva will come out – but January 26th is getting closer and closer.