The latest issue of the U.S. Energy Information's (EIA) Electric Power Monthly (with data through June 30) reveals that renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar—inc. small-scale PV and wind) remain in a statistical dead heat with nuclear power vis-à-vis their respective shares of the nation's electrical generation, with each providing roughly 20 percent of the total.
During the six-month period (January — June), renewables surpassed nuclear power in three of those months (March, April and May) while nuclear power took the lead in the other three. In total, according to EIA's data, utility-scale renewables plus small-scale solar PV provided 20.05 percent of U.S. net electrical generation compared to 20.07 percent for nuclear power. However, renewables may actually hold a small lead because while EIA estimates the contribution from distributed PV, it does not include electrical generation by distributed wind, micro-hydro or small-scale biomass.
EIA has acknowledged the neck-in-neck status of nuclear power and renewables and stated as much in a news release it issued in early summer. However, the agency simultaneously stressed its view that "nuclear will generate more electricity than renewables for all of 2017."
Well, maybe ... maybe not.
While renewables and nuclear are each likely to continue to provide roughly one-fifth of the nation's electricity generation in the near-term, the trend line clearly favors a rapidly expanding market share by renewables compared to a stagnating, if not declining, one for nuclear power. Electrical output by renewables during the first half of 2017 was 16.34 percent higher than for the same period in 2016 whereas nuclear output dropped by 3.27 percent. In the month of June alone, electrical generation by renewable sources was 27.15 percent greater than a year earlier whereas nuclear output dipped by 0.24 percent.
In fact, almost all renewable energy sources are experiencing strong growth rates. Comparing the first six months of 2017 to the same period in 2016, utility-scale + small-scale solar has grown by 45.1 percent, hydropower by 16.1 percent, wind by 15.6 percent and geothermal by 3.2 percent. Biomass (inc. wood and wood-derived fuels) has remained essentially unchanged—slipping by 0.8 percent. Electrical generation by solar alone is now greater than that provided individually by biomass, geothermal and oil (i.e., petroleum liquids + petroleum coke).
And on the capacity front, renewables long ago eclipsed nuclear power. For the first half of 2017, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commissions recently reported that renewables' share of total U.S. available installed generating capacity is 19.70 percent compared to 8.98 percent for nuclear—i.e., more than double. Finally, last month's cancellation of the Summer 2 and 3 reactors in South Carolina and Duke Power's subsequent decision to pull the plug on construction of the twin William Lee reactors (also in South Carolina) means the growing gap between renewables and nuclear will accelerate at an even faster clip in the coming years. In addition, the possible cancellation of the uneconomic Vogtle 3 and 4 reactors in Georgia would mean no new nuclear coming online for the foreseeable future, as reactor closures continue. In fact, counting possible additional closures and cancellations, retirements could very likely exceed additions.* "Everyone loves a horse race," noted Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. "However, the smart money is now on renewables to soon leave nuclear power in the dust."
"Nuclear power is in irreversible decline in the U.S., due to rising costs and failing economics of new and existing reactors, alike," said Tim Judson, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service. "Last month's cancellation of half the new reactors under construction in the U.S. means that gap is going to be wider than projected and accelerating."
*Planned reactor closures through 2025:
- 2018: Palisades (Michigan - 811 MW)
- 2019: Pilgrim (Massachusetts - 688 MW); Oyster Creek (New Jersey - 637 MW); Three Mile Island, Unit 1 (Pennsylvania - 829 MW)
- 2020: Indian Point, Unit 2 (New York - 1,029 MW)
- 2021: Indian Point, Unit 3 (New York - 1,040 MW)
- 2024: Diablo Canyon, Unit 1 (California - 1,118 MW)
- 2025: Diablo Canyon, Unit 2 (California - 1,122 MW)
- TOTAL Capacity Retirements: 7,274 MW
Planned reactor additions:
- 2016: Watts Bar, Unit 2 (Tennessee - 1,150 MW)
- ????: Vogtle, Unit 3 (Georgia - 1,117 MW) - delayed, cancellation under review
- ????: Vogtle, Unit 4 (Georgia - 1,117 MW) - delayed, cancellation under review
- TOTAL Capacity Additions: 3,384 MW (as few as 1,150 MW possible)
Possible reactor closures:
- 2022 or later: Millstone, Unit 2 (Connecticut - 882 MW)
- 2022 or later: Millstone, Unit 3 (Connecticut - 1,198 MW)
- ????: Davis-Besse (Ohio - 889 MW)
- ????: Perry (Ohio - 1,231 MW)
- ????: Beaver Valley, Unit 1 (Pennsylvania - 911 MW)
- ????: Beaver Valley, Unit 2 (Pennsylvania - 904 MW)
- TOTAL Additional Retirements: 6,015 MW
The latest issue of the U.S. Energy Information's "Electric Power Monthly" (with data through April 30) reveals that—for the first time since the beginning of the nuclear era—renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar—inc. small-scale PV, wind) are now providing a greater share of the nation's electrical generation than nuclear power.
For the first third of this year, renewables and nuclear power have been running neck-in-neck with renewables providing 20.20 percent of U.S. net electrical generation during the four-month period (January to April) compared to 20.75 percent for nuclear power. But in March and April, renewables surpassed nuclear power and have taken a growing lead: 21.60 percent (renewables) vs. 20.34 percent (nuclear) in March, and 22.98 percent (renewables) vs. 19.19 percent (nuclear) in April.
While renewables and nuclear are each likely to continue to provide roughly one-fifth of the nation's electricity generation in the near-term, the trend line clearly favors a rapidly expanding market share by renewables. Electrical output by renewables during the first third of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016 has increased by 12.1 percent whereas nuclear output has dropped by 2.9 percent. In fact, nuclear capacity has declined over the last four years, a trend which is projected to continue, regardless of planned new reactor startups.
From 2013-16, six reactors permanently ceased operation (Crystal River, Kewaunee, San Onofre-2, San Onofre-3, Vermont Yankee, Fort Calhoun), totaling 4,862 MW of generation capacity. Last year, one new reactor (Watts Bar-2) was connected to the grid (after a 43-year construction period), adding 1,150 MW, for a net decline of 3,712 MW since 2013. Six more reactors are scheduled to close by 2021, totaling 5,234 MW (5.2 percent of nuclear capacity). Two more reactors totaling 2,240 MW are scheduled to close by 2025.
Nuclear Giants Limp Towards Extinction https://t.co/GMciqHHIyO @StopNukePower @Nuclear_Matters— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1492211104.0
In addition, nuclear generators are discussing the potential retirements of several more. Against the planned retirement of 7,274 MW of capacity, four new reactors are in construction, totaling 4,468 MW. The completion of these reactors is in doubt, however, due to billions of dollars in cost overruns and the bankruptcy of designer-builder Westinghouse.
If all reactors being built are ultimately completed, total nuclear generating capacity will decline by at least 2,806 MW (three percent) by 2025, planned additions against planned retirements. If these projects are cancelled, nuclear capacity will decline by at least 7,274 MW (7.2 percent) from 2017, accounting for roughly 57,000 TMWh/year of generation.
On the other hand, almost all renewable energy sources are experiencing strong growth rates. Comparing the first four months of 2017 to the same period in 2016, solar has grown by 37.9 percent, wind by 14.2 percent, hydropower by 9.5 percent, and geothermal by 5.3 percent. Biomass (inc. wood and wood-derived fuels) has remained essentially unchanged—slipping by just 0.3 percent.
In recent years, the strong growth rates of both solar and wind have resulted in new records being set virtually every month. For the second month in a row, solar and wind combined provided more than 10 percent of the nation's electrical generation. In March 2017, those sources provided 10.04 percent of the nation's electrical generation. That record was eclipsed in April when solar and wind reached nearly 11 percent (10.92 percent) of total generation. And, for the first time, wind and solar combined have provided more electricity year-to-date (113,971 thousand megawatt-hours (TMWh)) than has hydropower (111,750 TMWh).
In April, solar alone reached another milestone, providing more than two percent (2.33 percent) of the nation's electrical supply. Consequently, solar has now moved into third place among renewable sources—behind hydropower and wind but ahead of biomass and geothermal. In April, utility-scale plus small-scale solar provided 20,928 TMWh compared to 20,509 TMWh from biomass and 5,945 TMWh from geothermal.
And not coincidentally, as renewables' share of electrical generation has grown, that of fossil fuels has declined. Electrical generation by fossil fuels (i.e., coal, natural gas, petroleum liquids + petroleum coke) dropped by 5.2 percent during the first third of 2017 compared to 2016.
"In light of their growth rates in recent years, it was inevitable that renewable sources would eventually overtake nuclear power," noted Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. "The only real surprise is how soon that has happened—years before most analysts ever expected."
"Renewable energy is now surpassing nuclear power, a major milestone in the transformation of the U.S. energy sector," said Tim Judson, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service.
"This gulf will only widen over the next several years, with continued strong growth of renewables and the planned retirement of at least seven percent of nuclear capacity by 2025. The possible completion of four new reactors will not be enough to reverse this trend, with total nuclear capacity falling by 2,806 MW (three percent) through 2025."
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
According to the latest issue of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) monthly Energy Infrastructure Update (with data through March 31), wind and solar provided 50.84 percent of the new electrical generating capacity added to the U.S. grid during the first quarter of 2017.
Thirteen "units" of wind totaling 1,479 MW combined with 62 units of solar (939 MW) exceeded the 2,235 MW provided by 21 units of natural gas and 102 MW provided by one unit of nuclear power. There was also 1-MW of capacity from "other" sources (e.g., fuel cells). In the first three months of the year, no new generating capacity was provided by coal, oil, hydropower, biomass or geothermal.
Moreover, the pace of growth of new solar and wind capacity is accelerating. For the first quarter of 2017, new capacity from those sources is 18.07 percent greater than that added during the same three-month period in 2016 (2,418 MW vs. 2048 MW).
Renewable sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar and wind) now account for almost one-fifth (19.51 percent) of the nation's total available installed generating capacity: hydropower (8.48 percent), wind (7.12 percent), solar (2.17 percent), biomass (1.41 percent) and geothermal (0.33 percent).
By comparison, at the end of 2016, renewables provided 19.17 percent of the total generating capacity. If current growth rates continue, renewables should top 20 percent before the end of this year.
Generating capacity by renewable sources is now more than double that of nuclear power (9.10 percent) and rapidly approaching that of coal (24.25 percent). *
"The Trump administration's efforts to reboot coal and expand oil drilling continue to be proven wrong-headed in light of the latest FERC data," noted Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign.
"Once more, renewables—led by wind and solar—have proven themselves to be the energy sources making America great again."
* Note that generating capacity is not the same as actual generation. Electrical production per MW of available capacity (i.e., capacity factor) for renewables is often lower than that for fossil fuels and nuclear power. As noted, the total installed operating generating capacity provided by renewables in 2017 is now 19.51 percent of the nation's total whereas actual electrical generation from renewables for the first two months of 2017 (according to the latest U.S. Energy Information Administration figures) is roughly 18.2 percent. However, both of these figures understate renewables' actual contribution because neither the U.S. Energy Information Administration nor FERC fully accounts for all electricity generated by smaller-scale, distributed renewable energy sources. FERC's data, for example, is limited to plants with nameplate capacity of 1 MW or greater and thereby fail to include distributed sources such as rooftop solar.
According to the latest issue of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) monthly Energy Infrastructure Update, renewable energy dominated new U.S. electrical generation put into service during 2016.
Combined, newly installed capacity from renewable sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) totaled 16,124-MW or 61.5 percent, surpassing that from natural gas (8,689-MW), nuclear power (1,270-MW), oil (58-MW) and coal (45-MW) combined.*
10 Reasons to Be Optimistic for a Low-Carbon Future https://t.co/6fFNeOiHqG @GreenpeaceAustP @foeeurope— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1483097708.0
This is the second year in a row in which the majority of new generating capacity came from renewable energy sources. In 2015, renewable sources added 12,400-MW of new generating capacity or 64.8 percent of the total. Almost half of new capacity (49.6 percent) came from renewables in 2014.
During calendar year 2016, new wind generating capacity grew by 7,865-MW and was nearly matched by new solar generating capacity (7,748-MW). There was also 314-MW of new hydropower capacity and 197-MW of new biomass capacity; there was no new geothermal steam capacity added in 2016.
The rapid growth of renewables—particularly solar and wind—has resulted their seizing an ever-growing share of the nation's total generating capacity. Five years ago, renewable sources cumulatively accounted for 14.26 percent of total available installed generating capacity; now they provide almost one-fifth (19.17 percent): hydropower—8.50 percent, wind—6.92 percent, solar—2.00 percent, biomass—1.42 percent and geothermal—0.33 percent.
Each of the non-hydro renewables has grown during the past half-decade and their combined capacity (10.67 percent) is now greater than that of nuclear power (9.00 percent) and nearly three times that of oil (3.79 percent).
By comparison, the shares of the nation's energy capacity provided by oil, nuclear power and coal have all declined. Today, oil's share is only 3.79 percent, nuclear power is 9.00 percent and coal is 24.65 percent—five years ago, they were 4.61 percent, 9.44 percent and 29.91 percent respectively. Only natural gas has experienced modest growth and that is from 41.60 percent in 2011 to 43.23 percent today.
The greatest percentage increase of any energy source has been experienced by solar whose share of the nation's generating capacity (2.00 percent) is now nearly twelve times greater than in December 2011 (0.17 percent). Moreover, its growth is accelerating—new solar capacity in 2016 (7,748-MW) more than doubled that added in 2015 (3,521-MW). It now exceeds that of biomass and geothermal combined.
"The focus of the new Trump Administration on fossil fuels is not only environmentally irresponsible but totally wrong-headed in light of the latest FERC data," noted Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. "Year-after-year, renewables are proving themselves to be the energy sources making America great again."
*Note that generating capacity is not the same as actual generation. Electrical production per MW of available capacity (i.e., capacity factor) for renewables is often lower than that for fossil fuels and nuclear power. As noted, the total installed operating generating capacity provided by renewables in 2016 is now 19.17 percent of the nation's total whereas actual electrical generation from renewables year-to-date (according to the latest U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) figures) is roughly 15.2 percent. However, both of these figures understate renewables' actual contribution because neither EIA nor FERC fully accounts for all electricity generated by smaller-scale, distributed renewable energy sources. FERC's data, for example, is limited to plants with nameplate capacity of 1 MW or greater and thereby fail to include distributed sources such as rooftop solar.