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Energy Storage and Renewables Beyond Wind, Hydro, Solar Make Up 4% of U.S. Power Capacity

graph of U.S. utility-scale electric generating capacity, as explained in the article text

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory

Beyond the main sources of electricity generation capacity in the United States that have recently been discussed in a series of Today in Energy articles, additional amounts of utility-scale capacity are provided by technologies such as hydroelectric pumped storage, batteries, flywheels, and renewable fuels other than hydro, wind, and solar. These sources collectively accounted for 4% of the electricity generating capacity in the United States in 2016.

Among capacity within this group, hydroelectric pumped storage plants tend to be the oldest plants. Of the 23 gigawatts (GW) of installed pumped storage capacity in operation at the end of 2016, 88% was in operation before 1990. Hydroelectric pumped storage units produce electricity from water previously pumped to an upper reservoir. Pumped storage allows system operators to time-shift power generation during periods of low demand to periods of high demand, when the value of generating electricity is greater.

At the end of 2016, 195 utility-scale geothermal generating units totaling 3.7 GW were in operation. The largest group of geothermal generating units, a complex located in Northern California called the Geysers, has 943 megawatts (MW) of generating capacity, more than a quarter of the national total.

Wood/wood waste biomass makes up the largest share of biomass technologies, with 10.2 GW of capacity in 2016. Municipal solid waste, landfill gas, and other waste biomass have total capacities of 2.2 GW, 2.1 GW, and 0.8 GW, respectively.

graph of U.S. utility-scale electric generating capacity, as explained in the article text

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory

California leads the United States in capacity of several categories: hydroelectric pumped storage, geothermal, landfill gas, and batteries. Florida leads the country in capacity of municipal solid waste and other waste biomass generators. Virginia’s Bath County is the site of the largest hydroelectric pumped storage plant in the United States, at slightly more than 3 gigawatts. All geothermal capacity is located in seven states in the western United States. By comparison, landfill gas and wood/wood waste generators are more common, with generators in 44 states and 32 states, respectively.

graph of other generating capacity by state, as explained in the article text

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory

Batteries and flywheels, which provide electricity storage, are among the newest operating units, as almost all of these generators have been added since 2010. Half of the United States’ 540 MW of batteries are in California, Illinois, and West Virginia. Flywheels provide electricity storage through rotational kinetic energy, and almost all of the nation’s 44 MW of utility-scale flywheels are located in New York and Pennsylvania.

distribution of energy storage and other renewable power plants in the lower 48 states, as explained in the article text

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory. Note: Click to enlarge.

More detailed information about the United States fleet of electricity generators is available through EIA’s annual survey of electric generators. EIA also maintains a preliminary monthly update of operating and planned generators.

This article is part of a series of Today in Energy articles examining the fleet of utility-scale power plants in the United States. Other articles have examined hydroelectric, coal, natural gas, nuclear, wind, solar, and petroleum generators.

Principal contributor: Richard Bowers

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Content Discussion

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 30, 2017

Richard, disappointing that EIA chooses to regurgitate that pumped storage, battery storage or any other storage represents “electrical generating capacity”.

Pumped storage wastes 25% of the energy generation that goes into it – period. It makes all generation at least 25% dirtier than it would have been directly meeting demand on the grid.

Thus, portraying it as any kind of environmental “solution”, as a “renewable power plant”, is wrong. Did your new boss Rick Perry put you up to this?

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on May 30, 2017

Fact:  the Ludington pumped-storage station is located not far from the Palisades and D.C. Cook nuclear power plants.  The availability of Ludington’s ~2 GW of schedulable load allows the nukes to run as base load even if consumers don’t need the power immediately.  This helps clean up the grid, replacing fossil-fired peakers with stored energy of minimal environmental impact.

Due to the difficulty of siting pumped hydro, we should be planning to use other storage that plays well with nuclear power.  Molten-salt storage with liquid-metal, gas-cooled or molten-salt reactors would be a good match.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on June 5, 2017

Same in Virginia, where North Anna nuclear charges Bath County PHS at night.

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on June 11, 2017

However, it does specify electricity generation, not primary energy supply, so it is not technically inaccurate … it is only misleading if it is assume that the audience does not grasp the difference.

Indeed, electricity generators directly consuming primary energy sources will put out less energy than they consume … what makes PHS and battery electricity generation distinctive is that they consume electricity, so that the energy loss happens twice, once in originally generating the electricity, and the other in the round trip (even if 25% loss is over-stating the case for new vintage PHS). OTOH, if that primary energy supply is non-dispatchable, using storage to allow it to be used as load following or peak electricity supply is clearly an upgrade in value.