Renewables will account for a substantial majority of the new U.S. utility-scale electric generating capacity planned to start commercial operation this year, with natural gas coming in a distant third behind solar and wind, according to data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
Developers and power plant owners plan to add 6.6 GW of natural gas-fired capacity in 2021, including 3.9 GW from combined-cycle generators and 2.6 GW from combustion turbine generators, EIA said, citing its latest inventory of electricity generators. More than 70% of this new natural gas capacity will be located in Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania, the agency said.
Natural gas accounts for 16% of the total 39.7 GW of capacity additions planned this year. At 15.4 GW, solar is expected to make up 39% of added capacity, with wind expected to account for 12.2 GW of new capacity, or 31% of the total.
The 15.4 GW of utility-scale solar capacity would set a new record, surpassing the close to 12 GW added in 2020, according to the agency.
“More than half of the new utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity is planned for four states: Texas (28%), Nevada (9%), California (9%), and North Carolina (7%),” EIA said.
The agency expects an additional 4.1 GW of small-scale solar PV capacity to enter service by the end of 2021.
The 12.2 GW of new wind capacity compares with 21 GW that came online in 2020, according to EIA. More than half of the new wind capacity will be located in Texas and Oklahoma, including the 999 MW Traverse wind farm in Oklahoma, the largest project coming online in 2021.
Other notable sources of new generating capacity in 2021 include battery storage and nuclear. Utility-scale battery storage is expected to more than quadruple as 4.3 GW of capacity comes online this year, EIA said.
“The rapid growth of renewables, such as wind and solar, is a major driver in the expansion of battery capacity because battery systems are increasingly paired with renewables,” according to EIA.
The new nuclear reactor at the Vogtle power plant in Georgia will account for about 3% of the 2021 capacity additions, the agency said.
The trends in capacity additions this year come as the incoming Biden Administration is expected to bring a renewed focus on climate policy. The natural gas industry is likely to face more pressure than ever, especially with a Democrat-controlled Senate, to prove gas can be a bridge fuel to a low-carbon economy.
Meanwhile, the energy transition has not been without its hiccups, with California experiencing rolling blackouts this past summer linked to market rules that overestimated the available capacity from renewable and demand response resources.
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