Last year was a banner year for renewable power in the U.S. But there’s no time to rest on our laurels: If the country wants to meet its climate and emissions reduction goals, more solar panels and wind turbines need to be installed at an even faster pace.
In 2021, the U.S. grid surpassed more than 200 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity, according to the American Clean Power Association’s latest market report. A total of 28.5 gigawatts of wind, utility solar and battery storage power capacity were added to the grid last year alone, which is enough to power more than 6.6 million homes. That total is comparable to the record set in 2020, and solar and battery storage installations both set records this year.
Texas dominated the clean energy installation game. The state added 7,690 megawatts of capacity, which is enough to meet the electricity needs of both Delaware and Hawaii. California, Oklahoma, Florida and New Mexico rounded out the top five, showing that both red and blue states are hot spots for renewables. That same held true for the states with the highest growth rates, which were topped by Alabama, Virginia and Connecticut.
Nationwide, 67% of the country’s total renewable power capacity is land-based wind power, 30% is solar power and 2% is battery storage. The U.S. has doubled its existing capacity since just 2016.
However, the race is not yet won. The trade group noted in its report that the current pace of clean power deployment “only provides 35% of the progress needed for a zero-emissions grid” by 2035, a target set by the Biden administration. As they have done consistently in the last two decades, developers will have to keep picking up the pace each and every year.
Complicating matters, the continuing pandemic and associated tangles in global supply chains delayed the deployment of roughly 10 gigawatts of capacity expected to come online in 2021; in some cases, the delays are indefinite. And the report flagged that transmission bottlenecks and policy uncertainty have plagued the industry and “threaten to stall future development.” It also specifically called out the Department of Commerce inquiry into solar module tariffs as “already taking a toll” on getting more utility-scale projects up and running.
“At a time when every megawatt of clean energy is crucial to protect Americans’ pocketbooks, drive economic growth, and achieve the country’s climate targets, these unnecessary barriers are slowing progress,” the report concludes.
This assessment that the renewable outlook is good but could be better jives with the International Energy Agency’s recent forecast for the world, which found that renewables development is growing at a record pace despite extenuating circumstances.