Renewables are the Largest Source of New Electricity Capacity In The U.S.

Wind Turbines against the Sky

By Arman Kazemi

February 11, 2016

A total of 16 gigawatts of clean energy capacity were added in the U.S. last year, by far the largest source of new power generation in 2015.

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Sustainable Energy in America Factbook, non-hydro renewables accounted for 68 per cent of all new capacity added to U.S. electricity grids, followed by natural gas at 25 per cent. There were also 1.1 gigawatts of new nuclear capacity - the first nuclear growth since the 1990s.

Meanwhile, a record number of coal plants in the U.S. were closed down, with 11 gigawatts of fossil-fuel capacity off-line by the end of October.

In fact, natural gas, which burns half as much carbon dioxide as coal, came within sight of coal last year, contributing 32.5 per cent of U.S. electricity generation to coal’s 34 per cent, which was down from 39 per cent in 2014 and 50 per cent in 2005.  

“This was the smallest contribution we’ve seen from coal within the modern era,” Colleen Regan, senior analyst for North American power at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, told the Washington Post.

On the renewables front, the largest growth came from wind power, with 8.5 gigawatts of new capacity added in 2015, a 65 per cent increase over the previous year as developers scrambled for federal tax credits set to expire by the end of 2016.

U.S. Congress has since agreed to extend those tax credits at least until 2020.

U.S. clean energy investments also increased to $56 billion in 2015, up 7.5 per cent from the previous year. In total, $11.1 billion went to infrastructure development and efficiency upgrades, $11.6 billion went to wind energy and fully $30.2 billion went to solar energy, resulting in record solar capacity added in 2015.

This growth in both natural gas and renewable capacity contributed to a 4.3 per cent drop in carbon emissions, the lowest yearly levels in the U.S. since 1995 and 17.8 per cent below 2005 levels.

“System costs have really come down for renewables, which makes the case for installing them a lot stronger,” Regan told Bloomberg Business. “This is a long-term trend.”