US Clean Energy Growth: Don’t Call It A Revolution

U.S. data through the midpoint of the year [PDF] shows new electricity generating capacity for utility-scale wind power down significantly from last year and solar power muddling along at about the same pace it had in 2012. Fossil fuels – coal and natural gas – make up the vast bulk of the new service so far in 2013.

The 2013 wind trend is in line with the modest expectations that were widespread after 2012’s boom in development, which in its intensity was the result of fears that the production tax credit would go away. A lot of companies hurriedly turned what would have been 2013 projects into 2012 projects, leaving the cupboard bare now.

u.s. renewable energy growth

image via U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

And on solar, it’s always important to note that much of the new capacity going in doesn’t get counted in these reports from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, because it’s distributed power on the roofs of homes and businesses. All signs point to continued fast growth there.

Still, the numbers provide a reminder that the U.S. energy infrastructure isn’t undergoing dramatic change. Incremental, yes. In the direction climate-change scientists would say is necessary, yes. But 75 percent of the 8,601 megawatts of new generating capacity that FERC reported coming online from January 1 through June 30 this year came from coal (1,579 MW) and gas (4,852 MW). Given that, you’d be crazy to say we’re seeing a revolution unfold.

Last year at this time, wind had added 2,766 MW compared to 959 MW in the first six months this year. That’s a gap that will only grow as the year inches on; the industry is slowly getting back on track, but the second half of last year saw development occur at a blistering pace, with more than 10,000 additional megawatts going online.

Solar is doing better, with 944 MW of new generating capacity this year compared to 944 MW at the same point in 2012.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • Octavion

    Clean energy pundits tend to only look at 1/2 of the picture…usually in the attempt to justify their ideas.

    Wind energy is too expensive to pay off. This is because every KW of power produced by wind generators must have a reliable backup…like coal, natural gas, hydroelectric or nuclear. Increasing wind power capacity means that power companies must spend much more than just the cost of the wind generators IF they are going to use them. Electricity can’t be stored for use later, so the power generators must react to demand immediately. Wind generators only produce power when the wind blows, and the wind blows when it wants to, not when we want it to.

    Solar continues to promise more than it can deliver. Large scale solar farms have huge initial costs and (usually) don’t provide enough reliable energy to pay for themselves at free market rates.

    Both are heavily subsidized by the taxpayers, which means they are paid for by people who have nothing at stake in the venture. They are forced – by government – to pay more for their power in higher rates (to absorb costs that the government doesn’t subsidize) and in taxes siphoned off to clean energy projects.

    It’s stupid and immoral and it will end in disaster.

    • jlmur

      Ha! Good one.

      Do you really think Jesus supported the Great Recession resource war in which the after math has led to the suicide of our veterans in unprecedented numbers? (Yea, you built that.) Or if he smiles at the gross destruction of this beautiful Garden of Eden we depend on?

      Get a clue ignoramus. (or degraded Psycho Shill)

      The so called free market Fossil Fuel Industry receives huge subsidies and deferential tax treatment because our derelict government is in bed with them. (Read Iraq Oil War, Justice Scalia in a duck hunting blind with Dick Cheney–former CEO of Halliburton Oil Service Industries…and that ain’t the half of it. Do you think former liberal Barack Obama was elected –overwhelmingly– to do what he’s doing now? LOL)

      We put a man on the moon over 40 years ago, within a decade of deciding to do so. This could have been the beginning of a more democratic, scientific and intelligent allocation of America’s immense riches and ingenuity towards a more “moral” means of energy production…and use.

      But it will happen.

      Even the ruthless, Dirty Oil Money/politicians/shameless media won’t be able to stop the Idea whose time has come.

      Thank God.

      “Men come and go, but Earth abides.”

    • BobTheJanitor2

      “reliable backup…like coal, natural gas, hydroelectric or nuclear.”

      Those are reliable backups?!? Like the coal plant that serves my city that has been offline for 3 months in the middle of AC season because the boiler leaks, and is going to be offline for another month at least, (the second, very long duration non-scheduled shut down in three years, last time it was the turbine blades that cracked.) And nuclear is the poster child for unreliable, (even when it isn’t exploding.) Nuclear plants SCRAM on average once a year and average a month before they come online again. When the 2003 blackout happened in the Northeast, a significant cause was that all the nuclear plants disconnected the minute the grid became unstable and can’t be reconnected quickly… In other words, 9 reactors went offline for 4 days all because someone didn’t trim a tree. (Some took more than that to come up, but some were up after “only” 4 days.) These aren’t scheduled maintenance activities, they can’t even be forecast as well as the weather can be, nope these are huge plants that went from working, to completely hosed for far longer than it will take the food in my fridge to go bad… Those plants NEED reliable backup!

      Yep, the bad thing about solar is that it goes off at night, but with no moving parts, (not even a cooling fan on the inverter,) the odds that my solar array will turn on in the morning is far better than any of the power sources you mentioned. If you look at the numbers: a MW of solar capacity does a more reliable job than a MW nuclear at providing power during peak loads, which is pretty sad because peak loads are often in the late afternoon. It isn’t that solar works well at those hours, it is just that the bar is so low to beat nuclear.