Gas, Solar, Wind

EIA: Solar, Wind Investment Flourishes, but Gas-fired Biggest Bargain

Wind and solar generators took the greatest leap in new installed capacity and construction investment, while natural gas-fired generation proved to offer the most bang for the buck per project, according to the most recent data available on generator costs released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

New wind and solar installations accounted for nearly 9,000 and 8,000 MW of capacity two years ago, respectively, while natural gas was close behind at more than 7,900 MW. The EIA used complete data from 2016 installations and will release 2017 generator cost data next year.

Hydroelectric, battery storage and biomass were distant followers behind the lead pack at less  than 1,000 MW each of new installed capacity, according to the EIA. The average upfront cost of hydropower construction hovered at $5,312 per kW, more than double the capacity-weighted expense of any other major source.

EIA data showed solar installations at second most expensive at $2,434 per kW and biomass at $2,198. Wind power construction averaged $1,630, while natural gas was the least expensive at only $895 per kW.

Solar dominated in total construction investment and number of plants at nearly $20 billion and almost 450 sites, respectively, according to the EIA. Wind farms were second in both categories, while natural gas was third in construction costs and number of plants.

Natural gas gained ground in overall impact with the highest average new capacity per site. The fossil fuel-fired plants averaged more than 200 MW per new plant and close to 190 MW per additions at existing facilities, the EIA shows.

Gas-fired turbines are now providing about 37 percent of the U.S. generation mix, according to reports. Coal is falling below 30 percent and non-hydro renewables will ascend above 10 percent by next year, according to the EIA.

The average wind farm added more than 100 MW per site two years ago, while hydro was listed third at close to 100 MW including new and old plant additions. Solar had the highest number of generators added in 2016 at 492.

Regionally, the southern U.S. boasted the highest total capacity added at 12,000 MW overall, perhaps because the section had the lowest construction cost at $1,420 per kW, according to the EIA. Conversely, the northeast had the highest construction costs and lowest additional capacity.

The EIA 2016 report did not mention any coal-fired generation additions.