Why You Should Be Optimistic About Renewables, In One Chart


When it comes to America’s energy future, it seems like all we ever hear about these days is natural gas. To hear the deafening outcry over fracking, to see the flares of North Dakota’s drilling boom twinkling in space, you’d think we’d gone ahead and set every other type of power production to low simmer on the backburner. Turns out, it just ain’t so. The latest update from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an independent government agency that regulates interstate electricity trading, reveals that in 2012 wind was the fastest-growing energy source, adding a full seven percent more megawatts than natural gas. Dig it:

new renewables

Chart by Tim McDonnell

It’s true that natural gas still leads everything else by a huge margin in terms of total installed capacity, accounting for 42 percent; coal, by contrast, is 29 percent, and wind is 5 percent. But this new data lends an intriguing twist to the conventional narrative about natural gas being the undisputed kingpin of domestic energy growth—indeed, natural gas installations actually fell off between while 2011 and 2012, while wind increased by nearly 60 percent. Interestingly, more than a quarter of 2012’s new wind capacity came online in December, almost certainly driven by rush to get projects up in what many feared—needlessly, it turned out—were the final hours of wind’s federal tax credit.

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  • Tim McDonnell is a Mother Jones alum and current Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow reporting on climate change in Kenya, Uganda, and Nigeria. Follow him on Twitter.