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Growth in U.S. Renewable Energy Infrastructure Substantial

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Solar and wind power continue to grow in importance and as a proportion of overall electricity generation in the United States. Two recent reports indicate this. First, according to the American Wind Energy Assn., American wind power just achieved its second strongest quarter ever for newly installed energy generating capacity. Wind surpassed hydropower dams to become the largest source of renewable electric capacity in the United States, and the fourth largest overall. More than 100,000 people are employed in the wind industry. At the close of 2016, the American wind fleet totaled 82,183 MW, enough to power 24 million average American homes. There are now more than 52,000 individual wind turbines in 41 states plus Guam and Puerto Rico. According to the latest issue of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) monthly “Energy Infrastructure Update”, solar’s share of the nation’s generating capacity (2 percent) is now nearly 12 times greater than in December 2011 (0.17 percent). Moreover, its growth is accelerating—new solar capacity in 2016 (7,748 MW) more than doubled that added in 2015 (3,521 MW). It now exceeds that of biomass and geothermal combined.

Combined, newly installed capacity from renewable sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) totaled 16,124 MW or 61.5 percent in 2016, surpassing that from natural gas (8,689 MW), nuclear power (1,270 MW), oil (58 MW), and coal (45 MW) combined.

Last year was the second year in a row in which the majority of new generating capacity came from renewable energy sources. In 2015, renewable sources added 12,400 MW of new generating capacity, or 64.8 percent of the total. Almost half of new capacity (49.6 percent) came from renewables in 2014.

Spotlight on Solar & Wind

The rapid growth of renewables—particularly solar and wind—has resulted in their seizing an ever-growing share of the nation’s total generating capacity. Five years ago, renewable sources cumulatively accounted for 14.26 percent of total available installed generating capacity; now they provide almost one-fifth (19.17 percent): hydropower—8.50 percent, wind—6.92 percent, solar—2.00 percent, biomass—1.42 percent, and geothermal—0.33 percent.

Each of the non-hydro renewables has grown during the past half-decade and their combined capacity (10.67 percent) is now greater than that of nuclear power (9.00 pecent) and nearly three times that of oil (3.79 percent).

By comparison, the shares of the nation’s energy capacity provided by oil, nuclear power, and coal have all declined. Today, oil’s share is only 3.79 percent, nuclear power is 9.00 percent, and coal is 24.65 percent—five years ago, they were 4.61 percent, 9.44 percent, and 29.91 percent respectively. Only natural gas has experienced modest growth and that is from 41.60 percent in 2011 to 43.23 percent today.

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