# U.S. renewable energy capacity set to exceed natural gas within 3 years

A review by the SUN DAY Campaign of mid-year data just released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) reveals that the mix of renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) is now 30% of total U.S. electrical generating capacity. Moreover, June was the tenth month in a row in which solar was the largest source of new capacity putting it on track to become the nation’s second-largest source of capacity — behind only natural gas — within three years.

### The combined capacities of all renewables, including small-scale solar, are on track to exceed natural gas within three years

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Capacity only tells part of the story. Capacity is the maximum amount of power a particular generator is designed or rated to produce. But power plants don’t always produce their maximum output 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If we look at actual production of energy, a different story emerges.

Natural gas power plants produce much more actual electricity than renewables, and will continue to do so for many years.

In 2023, total renewables, including hydro and small scale solar, generated 961,240 GWh in the US.
That same year, natural gas power plants generated 1.8 million GWh.

```2023 US generation
Renewables (excluding hydro):   727,282 GWh
Renewables (including hydro):   961,240
Natural Gas: 1,802,062```

Question: When will renewables overtake natural gas in actual generation?
Answer: Based on the trends, it will never happen. This is because electricity from natural gas is growing faster than electricity from renewables.

```Year     Renewables   Natural Gas
2014       543,639     1,126,635
2023       961,240     1,802,062
--------     ---------
Change    +417,601      +675,427```

Note: In the above numbers, hydro generation is corrected for the net consumption of energy of the various pumped hydro storage facilities. In other words, net pumped hydro storage is a negative number.

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In 2014, natural gas power plants in the US produced 443 million metric tons of CO2.
In 2023, natural gas power plants produced 705 million metric tons. That is an increase of 262 million tonnes per year.
Good luck getting to zero CO2 with that kind of plan.

Natural gas is growing faster than renewables. Based on the trends of the last decade, renewables is never going to catch up, since the gap is actually growing, not shrinking. Let’s see what happens if/when coal is phased out completely. That won’t occur for several years, however, unless there is some big edict from the government, forcing the issue.

_ Pete

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Natural gas grew more than renewables, but it grew at a slower rate.

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Will there come a time when the growth of natural gas power generation slows, and then renewables eventually catch up?
Sure. It probably WILL happen at some point. But that day is several years down the road. It is well into the next decade, from what I can see. The further one projects into the future, the more unknowns there are, and it becomes more of a guess. So who really knows? How much will AI, cloud computing, bitcoin mining, plus all of those new Tesla automobiles add to the demand on the grid? Those are some of the issues that could have an effect on the makeup of the electricity system.

The point remains, however. Electric power generation from natural gas continues to grow, and the associated CO2 emissions from that natural gas continue to go up. This is happening even though the CAPACITY of renewables is increasing.

Looking at the data from the first 6 months of this year…
Yep, electric generation from natural gas is up again…

_ Pete

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First, I heartily agree the important metric is generation, not capacity.

But to answer your question, if current trends continue the answer is yes. According to your numbers, over the last decade the CAGR for renewables generation is higher than natural gas.

So if current trends continue, mathematically renewables will exceed natural gas, even if natural gas growth doesn’t slow.

Again acknowledging that we’re really concerned about generation not capacity; because almost all the new capacity is renewables, then almost all of the new generation will be from renewables too.

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In other words, CO2 emissions from the electric power sector will not get close to zero. Natural gas power plant emissions will keep rising, at least until coal is completely eliminated. When that happens (sometime after 2030?), based on the trend, natural gas power plants will be emitting close to 1 billion metric tons of CO2 every year.

One billion tonnes is less than the total emissions now, since coal is such a dirty fuel, but it is still a lot of CO2. The current commitment is to get to 100% clean electricity in the US by 2035. That is not very likely, IMO.

_ Pete

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Once plants are in place to burn natural gas shutting those down is unlikely. The builders are expecting return on their investment and are unlikely to take a write off to shut down early. Of course if other sources are cheaper, retiring plants sooner (or as soon as they are fully depreciated) becomes more attractive. And EPA or other regulators can issue rules that make natural gas more costly to burn. Such as scrubbers to collect and sequester CO2.

For the most part these are regulated utilities. If the regulators want renewable energy then the utilities are happy to provide it–provided they get a corresponding rate increase if it is more expensive than existing.

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Your link shows that coal is declining faster than natural gas is increasing, so that’s good right?

A quick Google search tells me that natural gas’ percentage of generation is headed down. So the trend is in the correct direction.

That doesn’t mean clean energy targets will be met, but it is better than the trends being in the wrong direction.

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Natural gas plants are not expensive to build. The most expensive part of natural gas power plants is the natural gas they need to use.

Solar and wind are cheaper to build and operate than natural gas power plants. In the future, natural gas power plants will only be used for short term backup in the future when solar, wind and energy storage have been added and the grid is built to take the new solar and wind power. This energy transition is now in progress by the Biden Administration because of the climate change laws passed. We will see major changes by in power generation by 2030.

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