- Almost 9,000 MW of wind capacity was brought online last year, moving the resource past installed hydroelectric capacity for the first time, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
- Despite the significant shift—hydro has long had the largest installed base capacity among renewable resources—EIA said that actual generation from the nation's dams is still expected to be greater than wind output.
- Above-normal precipitation on the West Coast has helped hydro generation, and the resource has a higher capacity factor as well.
EIA's post this week confirms an announcement the American Wind Energy Association made back in February: that wind energy has the largest base of installed capacity among renewable resources in the United States.
AWEA made the proclamation but wound up amending its statement a day after issuing it to detail the source of its figures. The group used data from EIA's Electric Power Monthly for November 2016 (table 6.2.B), to show installed resources and then considered planned additions.
According to EIA, installed wind capacity ended 2016 at 81,312 MW compared with 79,985 MW of hydro.
Despite the change at the top, EIA said hydropower would likely generate more actual MWh this year. Wind and hydro have strong seasonal aspects, with wind peaking in late fall and early winter. Hydro generation peaks in spring and summer, and the West Coast has benefited from more precipitation than usual.
"Given the hydro fleet's historically higher capacity factors compared with wind and the expected strong hydrological conditions on the West Coast this year, such as the recent heavy rainfall in California and the Pacific Northwest, hydro generation in 2017 will likely still be higher than wind generation even with anticipated continuing additions of new wind capacity throughout the year," EIA concluded.
There are more than 52,000 individual wind turbines in 41 states and two territories, and Texas leads the nation for installed capacity. The state has three times more wind generating capacity than any other, with more than 20,000 MW. Another 5,400 MW are under construction and 1,300 MW in advanced development.