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Solar Power vs Natural Gas – H1 2014 Numbers are Surprising

US Energy Information Administration Says Solar Power Generating Capacity Came in "Second"
US Energy Information Administration Says Solar Power Generating Capacity Came in “Second”

As American energy-needs continue to increase, new energy sources are required to fill in the gap, among them solar power, wind power, natural gas, and coal, to name a few.

Looking at the last fifty years of renewable energy in the United States, however, renewable energy, such as wind power and solar power, really only kept up with the increase in energy capacity, never really taking over for fossil fuel power generation capacity. To date, solar power, for example, has only made up about half a percentage point of the United States’ energy mix, but it is growing.

Fossil fuel power-generating facilities have also been growing, which is somewhat disappointing, but not unexpected. Thanks to the fracking boom, natural gas generating capacity has been growing rapidly in the last decade. According to the latest data from the US EIA (Energy Information Administration), natural gas power generating capacity was the fastest growing segment for the first half of 2014. Solar power came in second place, and wind power came in third. The EIA numbers, however, may not be telling the whole story.

The EIA tells us that 4,350 MW of new generating capacity came online in the first half of 2014, 2,319 MW of natural gas, 1,146 of solar power, and 675 of wind power. What EIA’s data fails to take into account are all the sub-1 MW installations in the country, such as small businesses and residential solar power. According to GTM Research, when all sub-1 MW installations are considered, total solar power generating capacity additions for the first half of 2014 actually surpass natural gas by 159 MW. Total solar power generating capacity, when smaller installations are included, amounts to 2,478 MW today, and total capacity in the country is just shy of 16 GW, enough power for 3.2 million homes. Still, we’ve got a ways to go before centralized power producers scale back fossil fuel capacity.

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