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US renewable capacity surpasses coal for the first time despite Trump’s promises, gap due to widen

US electricity generation capacity from renewable energy sources surpassed coal for the first time this April, and that gap looks to grow substantially during the next three years.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released its latest Energy Infrastructure Update, and the numbers reveal that the total installed capacity of renewables — including hydropower, wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass — hit 257.53 GW in April 2019, grabbing a 21.56% share of installed generating capacity.

Coal checked in with 257.48 GW and a 21.55% share, respectively, just falling behind. Wind and solar added 178 MW in new installations to surpass the fossil fuel.

When it comes to installed capacity for renewables alone, hydropower is still the leader, but it won’t be for long — wind is now just 1.82 GW behind hydro, and should pass it in the near future.

FERC also shared the proposed additions and retirements in total installed capacity over the next three years, to May 2022, and by that time, the gap between renewables and coal will be vast.

In those three years, coal is expected to install just 867 new MW of capacity, while 13,276 MW of coal capacity will be retired.

Meanwhile, wind and solar alone should push renewables far, far ahead of coal. FERC expects there to be a “high probability” of 40,203 MW of new wind and solar installed by May 2022. If you include all proposed additions — beyond that of what the commission merely considers “high probability” — the US could see more than 186,000 MW of installed wind and solar capacity added in those next three years.

The updated capacity numbers fall in line with the expectations of electricity generation from renewables surpassing coal in the US. Another study recently noted that renewables are now the cheapest power option for most of the world, as costs continue to hit new lows.

Natural gas is still the leader in total installed capacity for electricity generation in the US, with a 44.44% share as of April.

Electrek’s Take

Capacity isn’t the same as electricity generation, where coal’s share should remain closer to renewables for a bit. But nevertheless, we’ve reached the part of the US energy transition where renewables are passing coal, and they won’t look back.

President Trump vowed to save coal, but despite those promises, it’s not really something he can control. It’s like fighting time. The president specifically tweeted about saving a Tennessee Valley Authority coal plant in February, but the board voted to close that plant and another, anyway. As TVA President and Chief Executive Bill Johnson said at the time, “It is not about coal. This decision is about economics.”

The next showdown for renewables is with natural gas, which has added more capacity than all renewables combined thus far this year.

Though FERC expects natural gas to continue to add capacity in the next three years, wind and solar combined are expected to add more capacity than gas during that time. And not to be overlooked in the matter is Michael Bloomberg’s new $500 million Beyond Carbon initiative, which aims to prevent the construction of new gas plants, as it has done and will continue to do for coal plants.

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Phil Dzikiy is an Editor/Writer with Electrek/9to5Mac. Tips: