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Annual changes in hydroelectric generation are primarily the result of variations in annual precipitation patterns and water runoff. Although weather patterns also affect wind generation in different regions, capacity growth has been the predominant driver of annual changes in wind generation.
Both hydroelectric and wind generation follow seasonal patterns. Hydroelectric generation is typically greatest in the spring when precipitation and melting snowpack increase water runoff. Seasonal patterns in wind generation vary across the country, but wind generation is usually greatest in the spring and fall.
Wind capacity additions tend to come online during the fourth quarter of the year, most likely because of tax benefits. Wind capacity additions totaled 10 gigawatts in 2019 (3.8 GW installed in the fourth quarter), making 2019 the second-largest year for wind capacity additions, second only to 2012.
As of the end of 2019, the United States had 103 GW of wind capacity, nearly all of which (77%) were installed in the past decade. The United States has 80 GW of hydroelectric capacity, most of which has been operating for several decades. Only 2 GW of hydroelectric capacity has been added in the past decade, and some of those additions involved converting previously non-powered dams.
The use of renewable energy is not a new technique and some forms have been used for over 2,000 years.
Although total installed wind capacity surpassed total installed hydroelectric capacity in 2016, it wasn’t until 2019 that wind generation surpassed hydroelectric generation. The average annual capacity factors for the hydroelectric fleet between 2009 and 2019 ranged from 35% to 43%. The average annual capacity factors for the U.S. wind fleet were lower, ranging from 28% to 35%. Capacity factors are the ratio of the electrical energy produced by a generating unit for a specified period of time to the electrical energy that could have been produced at continuous full power operation during the same period.
Reprinted from the US Energy Information Administration Power Up With Positivity By Sharing The Good News With Your Friends On Social Media – Feature photo by Daxis, CC