As new power generation comes online, investments in renewable technologies consistently outpace those in fossil fuel development. Continued growth in both distributed and utility-scale solar has further solidified this trend in recent months.
In fact, for the last year, distributed generation — or electricity produced locally from rooftop solar on homes and businesses or in nearby community solar gardens — has averaged a share of more than 20 percent of all new power generation.
Below are the most recent data on new power plant capacity in the U.S., disaggregated by energy source on a quarterly basis.
Renewables as a New Normal
So far this year, renewable energy from both solar and wind energy accounted for close to 3.4 gigawatts (GW-AC) of all new power generation, claiming well over three-quarters of the total 4.1 GW capacity added nationally. New natural gas plants, which picked up slightly since the end of 2017, still account for less than one-fifth of the country’s new power and pale in comparison to the amount of renewables (82 percent) added so far in 2018. Natural gas—the only fossil fuel capacity being added to the grid at all—has accounted for less than half of new capacity in all but two of the last nine quarters.
Notably, new solar from both small-scale distributed and utility-scale generation outpaced wind development for the fourth consecutive quarter in a row, with 65 percent of total renewable generation and 53 percent of total power plant capacity added to-date this year.
Steady Growth for Distributed Solar
Distributed solar added a solid 910 megawatts (MW) of new capacity in early 2018, corresponding to its best first quarter performance to-date and not too far behind a record-breaking final quarter of 2017, where more than 1200 MW of small-scale solar came online.
With the addition of these latest results, distributed generation has averaged more than one-fifth (23.5 percent, to be exact) of all new power generation over the last four quarters — a slightly higher average share, in fact, than shares of new wind (23.3 percent) or big, utility-scale solar (21 percent) averaged over the same time period.
This consistent, steady growth of distributed generation is a positive sign for communities, considering the benefits such power sources bring to the local economy. New residential rooftop solar requirements in California, successful community solar programs in states like Minnesota and Maryland that could inspire other states to follow suit, and decreasing costs of battery storage that make solar even more economical, are all signs that point to the myriad of ways distributed solar has become more accessible for individuals, businesses, and communities alike.
In light of a new tariff on imported solar arrays that took effect earlier this year, it will be interesting to see whether the distributed solar market can continue to claim a growing share of new power generation in the months and years ahead. Of course, if the steady growth of new distributed generation over the last year is a bellwether of what is to come, it does appear that the rooftop revolution has arrived and is here to stay.
Interested in earlier trends and analysis? Check out our archive, illustrating how new power generation has evolved in previous quarters and years.