This year to see more wind and natural gas on US grid

The US Energy Information Agency released figures on the changes expected for the electric grid in the country during 2015. Based on expected plant openings, the Agency expects to see a significant decline in coal power over the course of the year, coupled with a large gain in wind and natural gas, and the first new nuclear capacity added to the grid in decades. The growth in renewables is notably an underestimate, as it only includes utility-scale projects and none of the small-scale and residential installations.

The addition of new generating capacity is skewed heavily toward the end of the year, as utilities try to take advantage of incentives that may expire at the end of the year. Most of the new capacity—nearly 10GW of it—will be in the form of wind, installed in the Plains States. Capacity factors will mean that the actual power generated is about a third of that. Natural gas would see an additional 4.3GW of capacity, and nuclear a 1.1GW boost. That latter is almost entirely due to the expected opening of a site called Watts Bar 2 in Tennessee, where construction was stopped in the 1980s before being restarted recently.

Solar and other renewables will account for another 2.7GW of added capacity. As noted above, however, the nation as a whole will likely see far more solar added than that figure reflects.

At the same time, the US is expected to close 16GW of generating capacity—over 80 % of it coal. The EIA suggests that most of these plants are small and out-of-date and will have trouble meeting the EPA’s new standards for mercury emissions. These plants, however, aren’t seeing heavy use anyway; they’ve got a typical capacity factor that’s less than that of wind.

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