US adds 1.5 GW utility-scale PV capacity in first 8 months of 2014

Share

The U.S. has added 1,510 MW of utility-scale solar PV capacity so far in 2014, according to data published this week by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Ferc).

The latest Ferc data – which does not account for distributed generation – shows that August saw the addition of 68 MW of solar PV capacity across the U.S., taking the total installed solar generating capacity in the country to 9.55 GW which, although only 0.82% of total energy capacity, represents an encouraging progression of the sector.

Last month’s solar performance was an improvement on July, which saw just 21 MW of solar capacity added to the U.S. grid. However, July was notable in that of the 405 MW of new U.S. electricity capacity added that month, all of it came from renewable sources, with wind power adding the lion’s share at 379 MW.

The trend towards renewable energy in the U.S. cannot be underestimated, with 54% of all new energy capacity added across the country this year coming from clean renewable sources such as solar PV, CSP, wind and hydropower. There have been no new coal or nuclear projects launched in the U.S. this year as the Obama administration steps up its efforts to transition towards a greener energy mix.

However, the journey is likely to be long and arduous. Ferc’s figures show that while only 1.5 GW of coal power has been added since January 2013, coal’s combined capacity stands at 328 GW – a figure that accounts for 28.2% of total energy capacity. The surge of the U.S. fracking industry has also been transformative, with more than 13 GW of natural gas generation capacity added over the past 18 months. Natural gas accounts for 42% of the U.S.’s total capacity, or 490 GW.

Culture of change

Despite the pre-eminence of polluting fossil fuels, the Ferc data does at least point to a diversification of the U.S. energy mix, and a definite tilting in favor of clean energy, with solar increasingly likely to shape the country’s energy landscape in the years to come.

While the figures make for stark reading for climate change advocates, the thousands who turned out in their droves at the weekend in support of the New York City Climate March suggest that appetite for change runs deep throughout much of the populace.

Alongside the estimated 400,000 people who marched through Manhattan on Sunday were a couple of figureheads who have committed to going green. Among the crowd was IKEA group president and CEO Peter Agnefjäall and the company’s chief sustainability officer Steve Howard. IKEA has committed to tackling climate change wherever and whenever it can in the U.S., and has already installed more than 700,000 solar panels atop its facilities worldwide. In total, the company expects to invest more than $2 billion in solar and wind systems. In the fiscal year 2013, the IKEA Group generated 37% of its global energy needs with renewables, and hopes to increase that percentage significantly in 2014.

The people’s march in New York was timed to coincide with the UN Climate Summit, which commences today in New York. The marchers were joined by fellow protestors in London, Paris, Berlin and a host of other cities around the world.

Ahead of the UN Climate Summit scientists from the Global Carbon Project published data that revealed the world pumped more than 36 billion tonnes of C02 into the atmosphere in 2013 – 2.3% more than in 2012. At this current rate, the scientists forecast, the world’s temperature will increase by 1.1 C in 30 years’ time. "Time is running short," said Exeter university’s Pierre Friedlingstein. "The more we do nothing, the more likely we are to be hitting this wall in 2040-something."

The biggest polluter in 2012 was China, which pumped 10 billion tonnes of C02 into the atmosphere, followed by the U.S., which accounted for 5.2 billion tonnes – a 2.9% increase on the previous year. However, the U.S. has previously been reducing its c02 emissions. Four of the previous five years saw a reduction in carbon emissions – a trend that some attribute to economic contraction, and one that is set to reverse as the economy gets back on track.