Sometime in 2006, the generating capacity of fossil fuels in the United States peaked.
Since then, more fossil-fueled generation has been retired (mostly coal) than has been built. In 2020, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) claims this pattern will repeat — with 32 GW of new wind and solar, 9.3 GW of new gas and 9.5 GW of retired coal and gas projected.
The EIA’s projections claim that the new gas plants are 6.7 GW of combined-cycle facilities and 2.3 GW of combustion-turbine plants, with more than 70% of these additions in Pennsylvania, Texas, California, and Louisiana. There are zero coal plants planned in the United States in 2020 and beyond.
EIA claims that gas units that came online in the 1950s or 1960s will be the majority retired, projecting 3.7 GW of closures with 2.2 GW of that volume coming from three California plants — Alamitos, Huntington Beach, and Redondo Beach. Coal will once again lead retirements, with projections ranging from 5.8 GW per the EIA, and up to 8 GW expected to retire per reporting by S&P Global Market Intelligence.
The combination of these additions and retirements suggests between 200 MW and 2.3 GW of total fossil fuel retirements.
The grey line in the chart shows the net difference between the new volume and the old volume. Including all of 2006, 188 GW of new fossil generation has been installed, while 182 GW of fossil generation has been retired.
Importantly, U.S. electricity generation within this time period has stayed flat since approximately 2007. With the significant volumes of wind and solar that has been built since then, and the falling capacity factors of fossil generation – it’s clear that wind and solar are replacing fossil fuels, and helping to decarbonize the power grid.
In 2019, it was suggested that the power grid emitted 10% lesser emissions than the prior year. And yes, while this was mostly accomplished because of gas replacing coal – the fact that greater than 11 GW of net fossil fuel retired in 2019 means that the electricity had to come from somewhere.
The EIA also buried, along with this author, an amazing lede: the U.S. is projecting a record setting volume of solar to be deployed. This will be made up of 13.4 GWac of utility scale and 5.1GWac of residential solar power. The 18.5 GWac total, with a standard 1.3:1 DC to AC ratio suggests 24 GWdc of solar power will be installed in 2020 — this will blow away the 2016 record.
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