US solar is growing at a breakneck speed, and it hit several big milestones in July, according to newly released government data.
In its latest monthly “Energy Infrastructure Update” report (with data through July 31, 2023) reviewed by the SUN DAY Campaign, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) says solar provided 1,824 megawatts (MW) of new US generation capacity, or more than 67.2% of the total added in July 2023. The balance (892 MW) was provided by natural gas. This brought solar’s share of total available installed generating capacity in the US up to 7.12%.
In the US Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) latest “Electric Power Monthly” report (with data through July 31, 2023), EIA reports that solar-generated electricity increased by 22.3% during the month compared to July 2022. This growth rate was greater than for any other energy source and was driven in part by a 26.6% expansion in the electricity EIA estimates to have been provided by small-scale solar photovoltaics, such as rooftop solar.
Estimated total solar in all sectors reached 26,785 gigawatt-hours (GWh) – or 6.2% of all electricity generated – and surpassed that provided by hydropower (21,500 GWh) while nearly equaling that provided by the US’s utility-scale wind farms (27,726 GWh).
Solar’s strong performance in July is expected to be a trend. FERC reports that “high probability” additions of solar between August 2023 and July 2026 total 84,392 MW – that’s nearly four times the forecast net “high probability” additions for wind (21,341 MW) and nearly 20 times those reported for natural gas (4,660 MW).
And that may be a conservative growth estimate: FERC reports that there may actually be as much as 215,688 MW of new solar additions in the three-year pipeline.
If just the “high probability” additions materialize, by mid-summer 2026, solar will account for more than 12.9% of the US’s installed generating capacity. That would be more than wind (12.4%). Solar’s installed generating capacity by July 2026 would also surpass oil (2.6%) and nuclear power (7.5%) combined, as well as approach that of coal (13.8%).
In three years, natural gas would still comprise the largest share of installed generating capacity (41.8%) but the mix of all renewable sources (i.e., solar plus wind, hydropower, geothermal, and biomass) would total 34.1%, and thus be on track to further reduce natural gas’ lead.
In July 2023 alone, the combination of all renewables provided 81,522 GWh of electric power – more than either coal (78,672 GWh) or nuclear power (69,888 MWh), and FERC’s three-year capacity forecasts suggest renewables’ lead over these sources will continue to expand.
SUN DAY Campaign’s executive director Ken Bossong noted:
Solar’s strong growth in both new capacity and actual electrical generation confirms that the emergence of the solar era is well under way.
Within three years, it will account for over an eighth of US generating capacity while the combined generating capacity of all renewable sources will be greater than that of either coal or nuclear power and approaching that of natural gas.
Photo: Electrify America
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