Utility-scale solar makes up 30% of new US electric capacity in the first half of 2014


The United States put online 102 utility-scale solar PV and concentrating solar power plants with a total capacity of 1.13 GW in the first six months of 2014, according to the latest Energy Infrastructure Update from the nation’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

This represents a 5% decline from the first half of 2013, but is still 32% of new generation put online during the period. In June 11 utility-scale PV plants totalling 40 MW were commissioned, with First Wind’s 14 MW Warren PV plant in Massachusetts as the largest completed during the month.

FERC’s monthly reports do not include “behind-the-meter” residential and commercial solar, and if these were added solar would make up closer to half of new generation during the first half of 2014.

Natural gas continues to be the leading form of new electricity generation in the United States, and another 1.55 GW of gas plants were added in the first six months of 2014, making up 44% of recorded capacity.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects these trends to continue, with gas serving as a the nation’s primary source of new generation through 2040. While EIA predicts that solar will remain the nation’s second-largest source of new generation, it also predicts that the nation’s solar market will collapse after the ITC expires at the end of 2016, and that only around 1.5 GW will be installed annually for the next 25 years.

Such predictions appear to be based on optimistic assessments of the quantity of remaining gas reserves, and also that the extraction of gas from fracking will continue to be politically tolerated despite large releases of fugitive methane, a potent greenhouse gas.