2014: The year solar energy shines


SALEM Ore., January 25, 2014—The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) is your one stop shop for everything you always wanted to know about energy production and consumption in the United States but were afraid to ask.

Among the many regularly-scheduled energy publications the EIA puts out, Today in Energy, a daily publication, contains eye-catching energy tidbits.

For example, on Jan. 24, 2014 the EIA published a map (shown above) identifying the locations of all new electric power plants scheduled to open in the United States this year. It’s going to be a busy year. There are 335 new power plants expected; 175 are solar powered, mostly located in California.

The above map is important because it displays the pinnacle year for solar power expansion under Obama Administration clean energy policy. Wind expansion has already peaked and started its growth decline as 2009 Recovery Act funding has gone leeward. Solar power has been slower to come online than wind.


The graph above shows total new electric power generation scheduled to come online by energy type. It is made possible because the EIA always includes links to their original datasets in their publications. The author-generated graph comes from the same new plant dataset used to create the above map taken from Today in Energy.

The above bar chart is a quantitative snapshot of new electric power capacity coming online in the United States. Noteworthy for 2014:

  • Renewable and fossil sources are evenly split
  • Natural-gas will provide the most newly added electric power
  • New coal-fired plants are in serious decline
  • Wind is still strong, but dwindling
  • Solar will have its largest new capacity to ever come online in 2014

New solar in California in 2014 is brought on by a unique combination of both federal and state tax incentives crafted to encourage building renewable energy sources. California requires that electric utilities in the state obtain 33 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020.

The taxpayer-funded incentives, though, are drying up.


By 2015, new wind and coal electric power generation dries up to practically nothing. Solar gets cut in half. Natural gas-fired electric power plants will dominate new plants coming online in 2015 and for decades to come. After years of decline, the first new nuclear electric plants begin to come online in 2015, as well as some new hydro.

Data shows that solar power is at its zenith for new electricity generation capacity this year. Data from 2013 to 2018 also shows new wind capacity is dwindling too, probably because taxpayer support for both is disappearing. Recovery Act funds are gone and replacement funding is not forthcoming. At present, solar and wind look like taxpayer-funded flashes in the pan in the long-term electric power picture.

The half and half split in 2014 between renewable and fossil fuel sources gives way to a massive move toward new natural gas-fired electric power plants in 2015. Fossil fuels will again dominate new power plant construction.

Capacity in megawatts is a deceptive measurement. What really matters is actual production. Natural gas, coal and nuclear can run at near capacity 24 by 7. Wind and solar cannot. Wind produces power only when the wind blows; solar generates power only during the daytime. In practice, wind and solar only produce at about 25 percent of capacity and cannot be turned on and off during peak usage times.

The President’s Climate Action Plan calls for the United States to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. It requires that emissions be considered in all energy policy decisions. The EPA is about to introduce regulations to cut coal-fired power plant emissions in half and natural gas electric plants by about 10 percent.

However, a long-term conversion from coal-fired to natural gas-fired electric power plants has been underway since 2007. The conversion is market driven, not government mandated. The best part is natural gas produces only half the greenhouse emissions of coal.

If the Administration would go with the flow, back off on EPA regulations being considered for natural gas-fired electric plants, and encourage wholesale replacement of coal, then it stands a better chance of reaching the 17 percent greenhouse emissions reduction goal than it does now.

You can learn a lot about energy from the EIA. Start by subscribing to Today in Energy.

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