Gas-Fired Generation Will Top 2018 Capacity Additions

The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA’s) latest report on the nation’s power generation inventory expects 32 GW of new capacity will enter commercial service this year, the most in at least at decade. And for the first time in five years, renewable energy sources will not make up the majority of that new generation.

Nearly all the new generation that came online in the first two months of this year—98% of the 2 GW added in January and February—was renewable, mostly solar and wind. But the rest of the year will belong in large part to natural gas-fired generation; EIA expects about 21 GW of gas-fired power will enter service by year-end 2018, according to planned online dates in EIA’s Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory report.

EIA on May 7 discussed the data in its online Today in Energy report. The agency said that based on project in-service dates, this will be the first year since 2013 that renewable energy sources will not comprise the bulk of new generation. EIA said about half of the new gas-fired power capacity will come online in the PJM Interconnection, the regional transmission organization (RTO) covering all or part of 13 states and the District of Columbia, in which questions have been raised in recent weeks about the reliability and resiliency of its transmission grid due to announced retirements of more than 3,600 MW in the RTOt his year, along with the early closures of four nuclear units.

EIA said that as of February 2018, renewable energy accounts for about 22% of all U.S. power generation capacity. The agency said renewables made up 55%, or more than 11.5 GW, of the 21 GW of generation added to the U.S. grid in 2017, but will account for just 36% of new capacity in 2018—the lowest amount since a similar 36% figure in 2011.

Though gas-fired generation will rapidly come online across the rest of 2018, EIA said February—“for the first time in decades”—saw no new fossil fuel-powered generation capacity come online in the U.S. The group said wind power accounted for 81% of the 475 MW that were added in February. About 16% of the new capacity was solar photovoltaic (PV), and the remaining 3% was hydro and biomass.

Nearly 1.2 GW of wind power came online in the first two months of this year, and EIA expects another 5 GW will be added by year-end. About 2 GW is scheduled to come online in Texas, already the state with the most wind capacity.

Several solar projects have begun commercial service in Florida; EIA said about 90% of the state’s solar generation capacity has come online since the start of 2017. Florida Power & Light has been busy adding solar farms this year, including four 74.5-MW plants that began operating in January, and another four similar 74.5-MW plants that started up in March. EIA said it expects a total of 4 GW of solar PV will be added nationwide by year-end, with most of the new facilities in California, Texas, and North Carolina.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor, @POWERmagazine)