EIA Report: Clean Energy Net Capacity Gains Outpacing Coal and Natural Gas

Published On
Mar 15, 2017

On February 27, 2017, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released a report detailing the additions and retirements of utility-scale electric generating capacity across the U.S. in 2016.

Electric capacity made substantial gains last year. (Capacity growth is shown on the top half of the graph provided.) More than 27 gigawatts (GW) of electricity generating capacity was added to the power grid, the largest added capacity since 2012. In the same time, roughly 12 GW of capacity was retired (shown in the lower half of the graph) for a net capacity gain of nearly 15 GW, the largest net change since 2011.

According to raw data from electrek.co, solar and wind energy were the driving force behind these gains. Coal had an overwhelming net loss in capacity with just 50 GW added and 7,159 GW retired. Natural gas gained 9,004 GW, which was greater than the added capacity for solar (7,669 GW) or wind energy (8,698 GW), however, it also lost 4,403 GW in capacity while practically no solar or wind energy capacity was retired (only 0 and 3 GW respectively.) Ultimately, natural gas had only half as much net capacity gains as solar or wind energy. Together, these renewable resources far outpaced the competition in capacity growth.

The net loss in coal capacity in the last few years further reinforces the fossil fuels decline. Returning to the raw data— since 2002, coal has constituted only 5.7 percent of new energy capacity and almost 50 percent of retirements. In addition, its share of energy generation has dropped from 53 percent in 2000 to just 33 percent in 2016.

It is still unclear if natural gas or renewable sources will win out in the long run to replace coal. Despite the more substantial growth in solar and wind energy in the last few years, natural gas accounts for a much bigger portion of the total electricity generation in the U.S. According to the EIA, in 2015, 33 percent of electricity was generated from natural gas, whereas solar energy only constituted a 0.6 percent share and wind a 4.7 percent share.

About the Author

Hannah Fullmer

Senior Editor

Hannah Fullmer is the former senior editor at ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR.

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.