US solar capacity additions edged out natural gas additions in 2023

Utility-scale solar and wind provided the majority (53%) of new US generating capacity added in the first two-thirds of 2023, according to new FERC data. 

In its newly released monthly “Energy Infrastructure Update” report (with data through August 31, 2023), the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) says solar provided 8,980 megawatts (MW) of new domestic generating capacity, or 40.5% of the total. Solar capacity additions during the first two-thirds of this year were more than one-third (35.9%) larger than for the same period last year.

Other renewable energy sources also saw growth to the end of August. Wind provided an additional 2,761 MW (12.5%). With the inclusion of hydropower (224 MW), geothermal (44 MW), and biomass (30 MW), the mix of renewable energy sources accounted for the majority – 54.3% – of new capacity additions.

The new solar capacity additions edged past those of natural gas (8,949 MW). Capacity was also provided by the new Vogtle-3 nuclear reactor (1,100 MW) in Georgia as well as by oil (32 MW) and waste heat (31 MW).

Thirty-six “units” of new solar came online in August alone. Utility-scale solar’s share of total available installed generating capacity in the US rose to 7.2% – and keep in mind that FERC doesn’t even report data for rooftop solar. So utility-scale solar still trails wind (11.6%) but is closing in on hydropower (8%). So to date, renewable sources now make up 28.3% of total US installed capacity.

Going forward, FERC reports that “high probability” additions of solar between September 2023 and August 2026 total 83,878 MW – an amount nearly four times the forecast net “high probability” additions for wind (21,453 MW) and over 20 times more than those projected for natural gas (4,037 MW).

And that’s a conservative estimate – FERC reports that there may actually be as much as 214,160 MW of new solar in the three-year pipeline.

In three years, natural gas would still comprise the largest share of installed generating capacity (41.7%) but the mix of all renewables (solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal, and biomass) would total 34.2% and be on track to further reduce natural gas’ lead.

The SUN DAY Campaign’s executive director Ken Bossong, who reviewed the FERC data, observed: 

Without interruption, each month solar energy increases its share of the US’s electrical generating capacity.

Now, 50 years after the onset of the 1973 Arab oil embargo, solar has grown from virtually nothing to a major part of the US’s energy mix.

Read more: The US’s oldest solar factory filed for bankruptcy in 2017 – but now it’s back

Photo: Invenergy

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