Solar power was 2nd-largest source of new power in US in 2013

new US power split
CC BY-SA 3.0 Zachary Shahan

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has released its final 2013 Energy Infrastructure Update for the United States. The new FERC report shows that solar power was the second-largest source of new US power capacity last year. However, FERC's numbers for solar are actually a gross underestimate of actual solar power additions. I'll tell you why after first going through FERC's key findings.

Starting with FERC's numbers, the summary is that natural gas took the top spot for new power capacity, adding 7,270 MW (or 51.17%) of new US power capacity; followed by solar, which added 2,936 MW (or 21%) of new power capacity. Overall, renewables added 5,279 MW (37.16%). Strong renewable energy growth is a testament to how competitive renewable energy sources such as solar and wind have become, but it's worth noting that we are still in the early stages of a genuine renewable energy revolution. Much more renewable energy growth is projected for the coming years and decades. In terms of solar power, 2014 is projected to be yet another record year.

I put the FERC numbers for 2013 into chart form for better visualization and comparison. Have a look for details on the full new power capacity split:

And here's a screenshot from the actual report:

FERC/Public Domain

However, as I noted at the top, this report tremendously underestimates solar power capacity. It only includes certain large solar projects. Those 2,936 MW of new solar power capacity come from just 266 projects. There were thousands upon thousands of rooftop solar power systems installed in 2013 that were not counted by FERC. (Recall that California added more rooftop solar power in 2013 than in the previous 30 years combined.)

So, in actuality, solar's share of the pie was much larger. Unfortunately, we don't yet have numbers on rooftop solar power capacity additions. Those are harder to track and won't come out for another month or two.

While solar power growth is strong, we still have a long way to go -- solar power still accounts for a tiny percentage of the US energy mix. We need tremendous growth for several years in order to cut into the share of our power that is coming from coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants. According to FERC's data (which, again, lacks a great deal of solar power capacity), here's the US power capacity mix as it sits today:

FERC/Public Domain

I'm sorry for ending on a low note. But I don't think it's any news to you -- we still have a lot of work to do! The good news is that wind and solar power costs have fallen off a cliff. We're in the century of clean energy.

Tags: Solar Energy | Solar Power | Wind Power

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