Solar more than doubled share of new capacity in US for first half of 2014

Jul 21, 2014 - Andy Colthorpe -


Work on First Wind's Warren County Solar project was completed in late June. Image: First Wind.

In the first six months of 2014, solar has represented almost a third of new electricity generation capacity additions in the US, more than doubling its performance in the same period of 2013, according to US government statistics.

According to the latest monthly Energy Infrastructure Update issued by the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC), new energy generation installations in the US were dominated in June by natural gas and solar, with only about half as much wind added as solar.

According to the report for June, around 40MW of solar was installed in June, behind 63MW of natural gas generation capacity added but ahead of wind power, with 21MW. Eight times as much solar was added than biomass, at 5MW.

The 40MW of solar added was across 11 projects, including Warren County Solar, a 14MW PV plant, which along with another recently connected 3MW AC project marks an entry into solar for First Wind when it was connected on 23 June. Warren County Solar and the 3MW plant are also First Wind’s first renewable energy projects in its home state of Massachusetts.

According to the report, other notable solar projects connected in the month included an 8.2MW project in Somerset County, New Jersey from which the electricity generated will be sold to pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly. The plant will have an expected annual output of around 12,900,000kWh. Built by KDC Solar, Eli Lilly will use the electricity at its ImClone biopharmaceutical division, where the 17 hectare system is on-site.

Unsurprisingly given the leading position of natural gas, the largest generation facilities installed in any form of generation in the month were a 39.6MW natural gas plant built for Kansas Municipal Energy Agency and a 25MW expansion to a natural gas plant for Southern Minnesota Municipal Energy, built across four sites. In total, 146MW of capacity was added across all forms of generation, with no new nuclear or coal facilities.

Looking back on the first half of the year, solar remains the only close competitor to natural gas. Of a cumulative capacity of 3,529MW installed from January to June this year, 1,131MW came from solar, while 1,555MW of natural gas generation capacity was installed. Wind managed just over half of the latter figure, 699MW, while only 87MW of new biomass was added, the next highest new capacity addition in the report.

Compared to last year, solar appears to have taken some big strides. The figure for new generation capacity was similar last year for the period January to June 2013, when 1,194MW of new solar was installed. However, in the same timeframe last year, almost five times that amount of natural gas capacity, 4,498MW, was installed, while 1,543MW of coal generation was added. Wind also made a stronger showing then than this year, with 963MW installed in the six months. By proportion, from a total of 8,496MW installed in all forms of generation in January to June of 2013, solar represented about 14% of new generation capacity, while in January to June this year, solar made up 32% of newly added capacity.

A US governmnt report last week predicted that by 2040 solar would be second only to natural gas in its importance to the US energy mix.