Electricity generating capacity in the United States increased by 27 gigawatts in 2016, the largest increase since 2012, and the majority of the new capacity was from renewable energy. At the same time, about 12 gigawatts of capacity was retired from the U.S. power grid, leading to a net gain of almost 15 gigawatts of capacity in 2016, the largest change since 2011, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration. In 2015, net capacity fell 5 gigawatts, which was the largest net decline recorded in the United States.
In the past 15 years, nearly 228 gigawatts of natural gas capacity has been added to the grid. Between 2002 and 2006, natural gas accounted for the majority of new capacity. Recently, renewable technologies, such as wind and solar, have comprised of more new capacity. “Of the 2016 total utility-scale capacity additions, more than 60% were wind (8.7 GW) and solar (7.7 GW), compared with 33% (9 GW) from natural gas,” according to EIA.
Large amounts of wind capacity started to be added to the grid in 2007 and since then, about 7 gigawatts have been added each year. Since 2008, the amount of utility-scale solar capacity has risen each year, except for 2014. “About 7.7 GW of utility-scale solar was added in 2016 — the most ever,” according to the EIA. “The amount of utility-scale solar capacity added in 2016 alone was greater than all utility-scale solar that had been added through 2013.” While rooftop solar systems are not included in the amount of utility-scale capacity, new systems that came online in 2016 accounted for 3.4 gigawatts of electricity generating capacity.
About 20 gigawatts of coal capacity has been added in the past 15 years. In the past four years, about 1 gigawatt of coal capacity has been added annually. Watts Bar Unit 2, which added 1 gigawatt of nuclear capacity, was the first nuclear plant to start since 1996.
“Since 2002, the electricity industry retired more than 53 GW of coal capacity, most of which were older, smaller, relatively inefficient coal-fired generating units,” according to the EIA. About 54 gigawatts of natural gas-fired capacity was retired in the same period. Between 2013 and 2016, five nuclear plants were retired, accounting for 5 gigawatts of capacity.