The American Clean Power Association’s (ACP) Clean Power Annual Market Report 2021 shows that wind, utility solar and battery storage power capacity in the U.S. topped 200 GW after 28.5 GW of clean energy projects came online in 2021.
Regardless of this milestone, installations were flat when compared to 2020 levels due to several policy headwinds facing the wind and solar sectors. ACP found that maintaining last year’s project volume would provide only 35% of what is needed to reach a net-zero grid by 2035.
“Despite recent growth trends, unrelenting challenges from the pandemic and global supply chain issues slowed clean power growth. Roughly 10 GW of clean power capacity originally expected online in 2021 were delayed because of various policy headwinds,” observes Heather Zichal, ACP’s CEO.
“Looking to 2022 and beyond, the uncertainty of tax credits for renewable energy projects, the availability of solar panels, supply chain issues and inflation are all expected to have a concerning impact on our ability to deliver growth,” she adds. “Further, continued and arguably heightened uncertainty brought about by challenges to existing trade precedent like this year’s Department of Commerce inquiry into solar module tariffs are already taking a toll as we see projects canceled and delayed.”
Clean power dominated new power capacity additions in 2021. A total of 594 projects came online, representing 81% of all new power capacity installations. And more is on the way, so long as constraints can be eased. At the end of the year, there were 303 projects under construction and 390 in advanced development. Clean power technologies now deliver 13% of the nation’s electricity – the equivalent of powering over 56 million homes.
However, the country faced a downward trend in transmission infrastructure, with only 386 miles of transmission lines being built in 2021. Transmission is critical to maintaining a reliable electricity grid and to integrating renewable energy resources more efficiently. Recent transmission additions are simply not adequate to enable the clean energy transition, as clean energy projects continue to scale up. Transmission projects in development could deliver an additional 5,000 miles of lines by 2025.
Last year was the second biggest year for wind installations after 2020 with 13,400 MW installed, bringing the total U.S. wind operating capacity to 135,843 MW. Despite this, land-based wind capacity installations were down due to more than 5 GW of projects being delayed for a variety of reasons including supply chain challenges, transportation and logistics constraints, inflation causing higher commodity prices, and interconnection delays. Overall, wind remained the largest renewable power source on the grid with utility operations in 41 states and Puerto Rico.
The U.S. utility solar sector installed a record 12,433 MW of capacity in 2021, bringing total cumulative operating capacity to 60,733 MW. Solar capacity installations grew by 20% year-over-year, although over 6 GW of projects were delayed in 2021. Delays were due to supply chain constraints and trade barriers. Solar imports into the U.S. fell 18% due to regulatory barriers which are expected to obstruct future industry growth.
The battery storage market saw its largest year on record with developers bringing 2.7 GW online in 2021, the first year of multi-GW battery storage capacity installations in the U.S. Overall there are now 4.7 GW of battery storage online.
More than 415,000 Americans make up the wind, solar and energy storage workforce across all 50 states. The solar sector makes up the largest share of clean power employment with more than 231,000 estimated majority-time workers. The wind sector employed about 116,800 workers, while the growing battery storage market employed approximately 66,700 workers.
The report finds the 594 clean power projects brought online in 2021 represent roughly $40.6 billion dollars in investment. Since 2000, total project investment in the clean energy sector is an estimated $392 billion across the U.S.
Clean energy also provided nearly $2.5 billion investment into local communities; last year alone, the clean power industry paid an estimated $1.2 billion in state and local taxes and nearly $1.3 billion in lease payments to landowners across the country.
The report also shows solar and wind costs have fallen 71% and 47% respectively in the last 10 years. Based on analysis in the report, wind and solar offer the lowest cost of any generation type in most parts of the country.
There are 35 states with at least 1 GW of operating wind, utility solar or battery storage capacity. Texas leads all states with 45,301 MW of cumulative clean power capacity installed, followed by California (23,434 MW), Iowa (12,341 MW), Oklahoma (11,050 MW) and Kansas (8,275 MW).
Texas added the most clean power capacity last year with 7,690 MW, followed by California (2,852 MW), Oklahoma (1,408 MW), Florida (1,382 MW) and New Mexico (1,374 MW).
In 2021, Texas led all states in land-based wind capacity additions with 3,343 MW and utility scale solar capacity additions with 3,768 MW. California led in battery storage additions, with 1,371 MW.
When it comes to electricity generation, Texas led all states by generating over 116 million MWh of renewable electricity in 2021. However, when it comes to the share of total electricity generated in a state, Iowa led with 55.8% of electricity generated from clean power in 2021. Other top states for clean power generation share include South Dakota (52.3%), Kansas (45.3%), Oklahoma (41.6%) and New Mexico (36%).
Business demand for clean power set a record as corporate buyers announced a record 13.6 GW of new clean power contracts in 2021. Corporate buyers are playing an increasingly important role in helping to scale up clean energy technologies by purchasing record amounts of clean power – 2021 was the first year in which non-utility buyers accounted for more than half of announced clean power purchase agreements.
Amazon (2,580 MW) and Meta (1,907 MW) lead power purchase agreements announced in 2021, followed by TotalEnergies (1,000 MW) as the third largest purchaser of clean power offtake agreements. In total, 128 entities announced PPAs in 2021.
NextEra Energy is the largest owner of operating clean power, accounting for 14% of total capacity. Berkshire Hathaway Energy comes in second with over 13,400 MW online, about 7% of total capacity, and Avangrid comes in third with 7,796 MW online.
Berkshire Hathaway Energy and Xcel Energy maintained their top rankings as number one and number two top buyers of clean power. Berkshire Hathaway Energy delivers over 14.4 GW of clean power to its customers across the West and Midwest regions of the country. Xcel Energy has nearly 11.8 GW of operating clean power available for its customers. Southern California Edison rounds out the top three with nearly 10.1 GW of operating clean power purchases.
The offshore wind market took several significant steps forward in 2021 with the first commercial-scale offshore wind project, the Vineyard Wind (806 MW) project, beginning onshore construction in November. South Fork Wind (132 MW) also received a record of decision in November, allowing construction to move forward earlier this year. The industry set a record for offshore wind procurement as states and utilities announced 8.4 GW of offshore wind procurement in 2021.
There are 18 projects in development that have secured offtake, totaling nearly 17.5 GW. In total, there are currently 26 active leases on the East Coast, stretching from Massachusetts to North Carolina in various stages of development.
Wind and solar projects provide significant environmental benefits and long-term health benefits. Wind and solar capacity online through 2021 can avoid an estimated 86 million cars’ worth of carbon emissions, or 398 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. The carbon emissions savings can prevent over $20 billion in climate-related damages each year. The roughly 38 GW of wind and solar power capacity under construction at the end of 2021 can reduce CO2 emissions by an additional 70 million metric tons once operational. That would bring total emissions reductions from U.S. wind and solar energy to around 470 million metric tons per year, while total U.S. country emissions totaled 5,222 million metric tons in 2020. For comparison, energy consumption in the U.S. produced approximately 4.5 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions in 2020.
Read the full report here.