In the third quarter of 2021, more than eight gigawatts of new power generation capacity came online. Added generation capacity of gas, large, and small solar all increased from the previous quarter, while the growth of wind dropped significantly. Altogether, solar made up an impressive 54 percent of new generation capacity this quarter. Gas rebounded after a particularly meager quarter, but did not set any records.
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.
Most Quarterly New Power Generation Capacity Was Solar
54 percent of new power generation capacity this quarter, or 1.5 gigawatts, was from new large-scale and distributed solar. This makes the third time in the last three years that solar contributed over 50 percent of quarterly added generation capacity.
Utility-scale solar delivered the largest individual portion of new power generation capacity in the third quarter of 2021. As utilities claim solar is unreliable or unaffordable, they install the technology themselves in record numbers — over three gigawatts this quarter. Clearly, to the utilities, the technology is not a problem. Instead, their concern is who gets to own and benefit from solar.
In a blow to the distributed solar market, California regulators have sided with the utilities in their recent proposed ruling. Read John Farrell’s critique of the decision.
Distributed Solar Sets a Quarterly Record
The third quarter of 2021 was the largest ever quarter for distributed solar, thanks to a surge in residential solar installation. For the first time, more than one gigawatt DC of residential solar was installed in a quarter, according to Wood Mackenzie and the Solar Energy Industries Association. Community solar and commercial solar had smaller contributions to the quarterly distributed solar total of 1.3 gigawatts AC.
Distributed solar installation typically surges in the fourth quarter of the year as homeowners and developers rush to take advantage of waning tax credits. This year, the federal Investment Tax Credit does not step down, making this third quarter surge more of an anomaly. Plus, it beat out previous fourth quarter surges in terms of installed capacity.
Despite supply chain disruptions, long waits for interconnection, and state legislatures diminishing the value of solar, the solar market is breaking records.
Gas and Wind Take Twenty Percent Each
The second quarter of 2021 was an exceptionally weak quarter for gas. Gas rebounded in the third quarter of 2021 with 1,848 megawatts of generation capacity added to the grid — more capacity than the first and second quarter of 2021 combined. This quarter was gas’s strongest third quarter since 2018.
Wind’s third quarter new generation capacity was a surprising drop after a strong second quarter. Just under 2 gigawatts of wind generation capacity was built this quarter, the lowest quarter for wind in the last year. No offshore wind generation capacity has come online since the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Pilot in January, 2021.
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)