Data shows solar power was America’s largest new energy source in 2016

Data released by the U.S. Department of Energy on Monday, Dec. 19, shows that solar power accounted for more new energy-producing capacity than any other source of electricity created over the past year.

New solar, or photovoltaic (PV) cells, built in 2016 are expected to generate a total of 9.5 gigawatts of electricity, which could power over 1.8 million homes. By comparison, new natural gas plants that have come online since January are only expected to produce eight gigawatts, and additional wind turbines 6.8 gigawatts, of electricity.

“If 2016 planned additions pan out as operators initially expected for 2016, it would mark the first year that solar was the largest source of capacity,” said EIA economist Tim Shear.

More traditional power sources have fallen off significantly, as a new nuclear plant in southeast Tennessee that came online in October — the first since 1996 — has created all of the source’s new 1.1 gigawatts this year. New coal-powered plants were non-existent in 2016, the first time natural gas generated more electricity than the black rock.

While solar’s rise in America’s energy field is relatively impressive, its use is still concentrated mainly in California, where over 40 percent of all new utility-grade solar sources came online this year. North Carolina was a distant second to the Golden State in new sun-powered energy sources, followed by Nevada, Texas and Georgia.

New solar panel installations measured by megawatts direct current (courtesy

Overall, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that solar power source capacity increased by 44 percent in 2016, and expects total output from PV cells to increase by an additional 30 percent in 2017. Despite the tremendous growth however, solar only generates one percent of total electricity consumed, currently totaling 35.8 gigawatts.

Other sources of renewable energy, particularly wind, are beginning to take off in America as well. In 2015, wind power accounted for more new energy-generating capacity than any other source, producing 8.1 gigawatts.

In early December, the first U.S. offshore wind turbines began operation in Rhode Island, which will generate enough electricity to power an estimated 17,000 homes and cut energy costs by more than half for local residents.


[Climate Central] [CBS News]