The U.S. added 1,146 MW of utility-scale solar generation in the first half of 2014—the most ever for a first- and second-quarter period—but natural gas continued to lead new additions, though its margin may be shrinking, according to Energy Information Administration (EIA) data.
Through the first six months of 2014, the U.S. added 2,179 MW of combined cycle generation and 131 MW of combustion turbine generation, plus 9 MW of other gas-fired capacity, for a total of 2,319 MW. While that represented a big drop from 2013, when the U.S. added 4,500 MW of gas-fired generation as a number of major plants in California and Florida came online, the total still accounted for just over half of the capacity added this year, the EIA said.
Solar and wind, by contrast, both more than doubled their first-half 2013 figures, with 675 MW of new wind generation coming online. Total solar additions (residential, commercial, and utility) for the first half of 2014 were 2,478 MW according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). That pushes total installed U.S. solar capacity to just under 16 GW. The U.S. has now seen three consecutive quarters with more than 1 GW of new solar added, the SEIA said in a Sept. 5 statement.
Most of the new gas capacity this year was accounted for by a single plant: Florida Power & Light’s three-unit, 1,210-MW Riviera Beach Next Generation Clean Energy Center, which started operations in April. The plant is a sister facility to the Cape Canaveral plant in Brevard County (a 2013 POWER Top Plant) and employs Siemens SGT6-8000H turbines to achieve efficiencies above 60%.
Other notable new gas plants included PacifiCorp’s three-unit, 645-MW Lake Side 2 Generation Facility near Salt Lake City, Utah; and expansions at two Calpine plants near Houston: Unit 5 at the Deer Park Energy Center and Unit 3 at the Channel Energy Center.
Texas will see substantial new gas-fired capacity in the second half of 2014 as well, with Panda Power Funds’ 758-MW Temple 1 and Sherman plants coming online this summer, while the 540-MW Thomas C. Ferguson plant near Austin reached substantial completion this month and is due for commercial operation later this year.
The EIA also noted that natural gas production continues to grow strongly, keeping prices moderate despite growing demand. U.S. natural gas production is expected to increase 5.3% in 2014, with the output increases are supporting strong gas injections into storage and record exports to Mexico.
Meanwhile, a recent report from Bentek noted that August marked the eighth straight month in which U.S. gas production set a new record. Average August 2014 gas production was 3.9 Bcf/d, or 6%, higher than August 2013, the report said.
—Thomas W. Overton, JD is a POWER associate editor.