Nearly all new power plant capacity was renewable in the third quarter of 2020; after three quarters of growth, fossil gas’s proportion of new capacity dropped to four percent. The total power generation capacity added this quarter, though a dip from the second quarter of 2020, still exceeded capacity added in the third quarter of 2019.
In the chart below, we illustrate the past two years of new power plant capacity in the U.S., disaggregated by energy source on a quarterly basis.
A Solar Super Majority
With small and large-scale solar comprising 23 and 37 percent, respectively, of new power plant capacity, their combined contribution to the third quarter’s new generation capacity is 60 percent.
Small-scale solar got a 17 percent boost to added capacity as compared to last quarter. Although small solar did not return to pre-pandemic installation levels, this quarter’s new capacity is comparable to previous third quarters — small solar installation concentrates at the end of the year (as homeowners and developers take advantage of soon-to-expire tax credits).
Only 1,594 megawatts of utility-scale solar were built in the third quarter of 2020, a significant dip from last quarter’s 2,111 megawatts. Still, 1,594 megawatts registers as the most large-scale solar capacity ever installed in the third quarter. In fact, every quarter of 2020 has seen the most new utility-scale solar installed in that respective quarter, as compared to previous years.
Rounding out the quarter’s renewable resource sweep of 96 percent is 1,536 megawatts of new wind capacity, an average showing for that resource.
All Gassed Out
Gas, after rounding up to the nearest whole number, only made up four percent of new generation capacity this quarter. 148 megawatts of new gas capacity was built in the third quarter of 2020, which is the lowest showing of new fossil gas since the first quarter of 2016.
The third quarter of 2020 was the fifth quarter in a row in which renewable energy held the majority of new power generation capacity. Looking back even further, renewables have held the majority of new capacity for nine of the last 12 quarters. Thanks to ever-improving renewable energy technology and battery storage, gas is losing its competitive edge.
When communities take charge of their power generation, they choose renewable energy over fossil fuels. Read about how Local Control Clears the Path to a Clean Energy Future.
A COVID-Free, Carbon-Free Future is in Sight
A COVID-19 vaccine is finally here. Although a “return to normal” is still far away, leaders can start to look past immediate need and plan in the long term: an economic recovery that goes beyond a return to normalcy to address economic, social, and environmental ills.
Renewable energy development can stimulate the economy, provide a source of revenue and reduce the energy burden of marginalized communities, and clean up the energy industry.
Solar is a resilient resource that might just rebuild our economy. Check out our 30 Million Solar Rooftops proposal: a vision for equitable economic recovery built on climate protection and energy democracy.
Communities of color have been disproportionately burdened by both the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis. In combating both crises in a just manner, their intersection is a great place to start.
Interested in earlier trends and analysis of new power plant capacity? Check out our archive, illustrating how electricity generation has changed in previous quarters and years.
Featured Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)