The federal government agency that collects and crunches numbers on the U.S. energy sector released data on Tuesday showing how much new utility-scale generating capacity has been added in the first six months of 2014. In it, natural gas was deemed the winner in terms of most new power plant capacity additions, with solar power deemed the second-largest source of new generating capacity.
However, that data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration may not tell the whole story. Stephen Lacey explains in Greentech Media (GTM) that the EIA’s data only compares large-scale solar to natural gas and other energy sources, and fails to consider additions to the small-scale residential and commercial photovoltaic (PV) sectors. Those small-scale sectors — comprised of projects that have less than 1 megawatt of capacity — had enough installations to put new generating capacity for solar in 2014 ahead of new generating capacity for natural gas, Lacey explains.
In order to come to that conclusion about how much small-scale solar has been added so far in 2014, Lacey cites data compiled by GTM in collaboration with the Solar Energy Industries Association. That data, which Lacey said “tracks all segments very closely,” says that when you include small-scale solar, there was a combined 2,478 megawatts of solar projects added to the grid in the first half of 2014. That’s way more than the EIA’s original data showed, which only included large-scale projects and cited additions of just over 1000 megawatts.
Comparing GTM’s data with EIA’s shows that 159 megawatts more solar PV and concentrated solar power capacity was installed than there was natural gas-fired plants. That accounts for about 53 percent of new capacity additions so far in 2014, Lacey said.
As GTM’s research shows, the additions in solar capacity are in line with a trend of increasing installations across the country. However, natural gas still beats out solar by a long shot in terms of how much we actually consume. Solar only makes up about half a percent of electricity and heat generation, and just over 1 percent of total electric generating capacity, according to the EIA . Meanwhile, approximately 31 percent of our electric power generation comes from natural gas. Although those totals do not account for distributed solar generation so solar’s total production is going to be higher.
Despite its low total in our energy diet, however, solar power has been on the rise in the United States, with capacity increasing 418 percent in the last four years alone, according to EIA data. And renewable energy itself is gaining — as of November 2013, renewable energy sources, including hydro, accounted for about 13 percent of total net generation.
Worldwide, the clean energy sector is growing at a healthy pace. According to an analysis by Clean Energy Pipeline, new investment in clean energy has increased eight percent since 2013. And Bloomberg News Energy Finance reports that $5.1 trillion will be invested in renewable energy sources by 2030.