Clean energy journalism for a cooler tomorrow

Chart: Clean energy to make up 84% of new US power capacity in 2023

Solar, wind, nuclear and grid batteries will account for nearly all power plant construction, with batteries beating gas for the first time.
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A desert surrounded by hills. In the foreground is a large solar array and in the distance white wind turbines are visible.
(Irfan Khan/Getty Images)

Canary Media’s chart of the week translates crucial data about the clean energy transition into a visual format.

Clean energy is crushing the competition to supply new power plants for the U.S. this year.

Fossil-fueled plants are expected to make up just 16 percent of new capacity additions completed in 2023, based on January data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Carbon-free power plants are on track to deliver 84 percent of new capacity — that includes solar, wind, nuclear and battery storage. That’s a larger share than last year, when clean power plants made up 78 percent of new capacity.

Renewables are still a relatively small share of the nation’s total electricity production. But this snapshot of the power industry in 2023 shows that they have already become the dominant choice for new power plants, seizing that mantle from fossil gas plants. It’s also a coup for battery storage, which went from extremely fringe just a few years ago to the second-place spot for new capacity coming online this year.

The star of the show is solar, which has risen from the margins of the industry to make up roughly half of the new planned capacity in 2023. Of course, solar plants don’t produce around the clock the way gas or nuclear can. That limitation is driving the surge in battery installations to store surplus solar production for use when it’s more valuable. (Batteries can also be charged from the grid, which may incur greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere, but they don’t burn fossil fuels onsite to operate.)

The sliver of new nuclear capacity comes from the much-delayed, overwhelmingly over-budget Vogtle plant in Georgia, where two reactors that have been under construction since 2009 are finally expected to come online alongside two existing reactors. Utility Southern Company announced this week that Vogtle Unit 3 has achieved criticality, meaning a self-sustaining fission reaction has begun. It said the unit should begin producing electricity in May or June, but Unit 4’s online date could slip into 2024.

Though clean energy dominates new power-plant construction today, the pace of construction still needs to increase significantly to reach President Biden’s 2030 goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half compared to 2005 levels.

Notably, the power plants arriving this year were developed before the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act last year. Clean energy was sweeping the industry even before Congress allocated $369 billion to encourage its adoption. Armed with the incentives in that law, clean energy portfolios are expected to be cheaper than nearly every new gas plant planned for construction through 2035, according to a recent analysis.

The thing to watch in the years to come, then, isn’t whether clean energy keeps beating fossil fuels in new construction. That’s no longer even close. The new contest will be how much more clean capacity gets added in absolute terms once the federal benefits work their way through the marketplace. 

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Julian Spector is a senior reporter at Canary Media. He reports on batteries, long-duration energy storage, low-carbon hydrogen and clean energy breakthroughs around the world.

Maria Virginia Olano is editorial producer at Canary Media.