Wind Energy FAQs: Generation Capacity

U.S. Installed Electrical Generation Capacity

In the last few years there has been a significant shift in the nation’s installed generation capacity: most notably – a substantial reduction from non-renewable and ‘carbon-heavy’ to renewable and ‘carbon-light’.

Absolute change in installed generation capacity between 2011 and 2020. The following chart illustrates and shows a significant reduction in, most notably, coal-fired generation capacity which was reduced by just over 100 gigawattts (GW) during the period and a correspondingly large increase in wind (70 GW), solar (77.1 GW)  and ‘natural’ gas (77.9 GW).

Rate of Change of Capacity Additions and Closures. President Trump campaigned on a platform of reversing the decline in coal-fired generation capacity. However the previous chart shows that no such reverse has been achieved while the following chart shows that the rate of coal plant closures has been remarkably consistent since early 2015. It also shows that wind and solar, while dealing with a number of policy headwinds – particularly in the last 3 years or so – have nonetheless managed to retain an equally consistent rate new capacity additions.

Capacity Market Share. The third and final chart shows the percentage of total installed capacity by fuel type. Renewables is the clear winner having increased it’s share of the total from 14% to 25.1% over the period. However, this hides the fact that ‘natural’ gas capacity operates with a higher capacity factor than renewables and so, in terms of electricity generated, has been the winner in the last few years despite having a relatively stable share (43.5% at end May 2020) of total capacity.