ACP: Renewable Energy Growth Needs to Accelerate to Attain Net Zero Grid by 2035

The American Clean Power Association’s (ACP) latest 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. Despite this milestone, installations were flat compared to 2020 levels because of several policy headwinds facing both the solar and wind 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. 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.”

In 2021, clean power was dominant in new power capacity additions. A total of 594 projects came online, representing 81% of all new power capacity installations. There are more projects in the pipeline, provided that constraints can be removed. There were 303 projects in progress and 390 in advanced design at the end of the year. Clean power technologies now deliver 13% of the nation’s electricity – the equivalent of powering over 56 million homes. 

The country saw a decline in transmission infrastructure with only 386 miles of transmission lines built in 2021. Transmission is crucial for maintaining reliable electricity supply and integrating more renewable energy resources efficiently. As clean energy projects grow, recent transmission additions are not sufficient to enable the clean-energy transition. Up to 5,000 miles more lines could be delivered by transmission projects under development by 2025. 

With 13,400 MW installed last year, it was the second largest year for wind installations in the United States after 2020. This brought the total U.S. Wind operating capacity to 135,843MW. Land-based wind capacity installations fell despite this. This was due to more than 5GW of projects being delayed due to a variety of reasons, including transportation and logistics constraints, supply chain challenges, supply chain problems, inflation, higher commodity prices, interconnection delays, and supply chain issues. Overall, wind remains the largest renewable energy source on the grid, with utility operations in 41 States and Puerto Rico.  

In 2021, the U.S. utility sector installed a record 12,433MW of solar capacity, bringing the total cumulative operating capacity to 60.733MW. Although solar capacity installations increased by 20% year-overyear, more than 6GW of projects were delayed between 2021 and 2023. Trade barriers and supply chain constraints caused delays. Due to regulatory barriers that are expected to obstruct future industry development, solar imports into the U.S. dropped 18% 

The market for battery storage saw its highest year ever, with developers bringing 2.7GW online in 2021. This was the first year of multi-GW battery storage capacity installation in the U.S. There are now 4.7 Gillion batteries online. 

In all 50 states, more than 415,000 Americans are part of the wind, solar, and energy storage workforce. With more than 231,000 workers estimated to be majority-time, the solar sector is the largest source of clean power employment. The wind sector employed approximately 116,800 workers, while the battery storage market employed approximately 66,000 workers.  

The report shows that 40.6 billion dollars has been invested in 594 clean energy projects to be completed by 2021. In the United States, $392 billion has been invested in clean energy projects since 2000.  

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 that solar and wind costs have fallen by 71% and 47%, respectively, over the past ten years. According to the report’s analysis, solar and wind offer the lowest costs of any generation type in most areas of the country.

35 states have at most 1 GW of wind, utility solar and battery storage capacity.  Texas is the most populous state with 45,301 MW cumulative clean power capacity. It is 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 was the leader in battery storage additions with 1,371MW.   

Texas was the most prolific state in electricity generation with more than 116 million MWh of solar 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%).  

As corporate buyers announced record 13.6 GW clean power contracts in 2021, business demand for clean electricity set a new record. 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. 

In 2021, Amazon (2,580MW) and Meta (1.907MW) announced power purchase agreements. TotalEnergies (1,007MW) was the third largest purchaser for clean power offtake agreements. In 2021, PPAs were announced by 128 entities. 

NextEra Energy owns the largest share of operating clean energy, representing 14% of total capacity. Berkshire Hathaway Energy ranks second with 13,400 MW online. This is approximately 7% of total capacity. Avangrid comes third with 7,796 MW online. 

Berkshire Hathaway Energy was ranked number one, while Xcel Energy was number two. Berkshire Hathaway Energy supplies over 14.4GW of clean energy to its customers in the West, Midwest and Central regions of the country. Xcel Energy offers its customers nearly 11.8 GW of clean power. Southern California Edison rounds out the top 3 with almost 10.1 GW of clean power purchases. 

The market for offshore wind made significant progress in 2021, with Vineyard Wind (806 MW), the first commercial-scale offshore project. Construction began onshore in November. South Fork Wind (132MW) was also granted a record of decision in November. This allowed construction to proceed earlier in the year. The industry set a record in offshore wind procurement with 8.4 GW of procurement by states and utilities in 2021.  

18 projects are currently in development and have received offtake of nearly 17.5GW. There are 26 active leases currently in place on the East Coast. They span from Massachusetts to North Carolina at various stages of development. 

Solar and wind projects have significant environmental and long-term 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. Each year, carbon emissions savings could prevent more than $20B in climate-related damages. After being fully operational, the roughly 38 GW of new wind and solar power capacity will reduce CO2 emissions to 70 million metric tons. This would result in a reduction of total U.S. CO2 emissions to approximately 470 million metric tonnes per annum, while total U.S. nation emissions reached 5,222 million metric tonnes in 2020. For comparison, energy consumption in the U.S. produced approximately 4.5 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions in 2020.

The full report is available here.