- A new report by BloombergNEF and BCSE say in 2020 US installed 33.6 GW of new wind and solar PV capacity comprising 17.1 GW of wind and 16.5 GW of solar power
- Despite COVID-19 and economic downturn of 2020, clean energy sources grew in strength and stature showing their resilience
- Corporate uptake of renewables remains a driving force for this segment to grow in the US, along with favorable policy environment under the Joe Biden administration
In the year 2020, the US installed 33.6 GW of wind and solar power capacity. While wind claimed a 17.1 GW stake, solar added 16.5 GW, contributing to renewable energy’s share in the national power grid rising 11% YoY. Renewable energy generated a 5th of the country’s power in 2020, claims the 9th edition of Sustainable Energy in America Factbook.
Most of the utility scale solar growth was concentrated in the southern part of the country, and homeowner demand remained strong through 2020. At the end of 2020, the report writers believe cumulative installed solar energy capacity of the US reached 91 GW out of 313 MW total renewable energy, growing from 74 GW at the end of 2019.
The annual joint report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE) concludes that despite the threat of COVID-19 pandemic and sharp economic contraction in 2020, the US clean energy sector showed resilience. Analysts argue this shows the market for these technologies is maturing and the portfolio is highly resilient.
“The strength of these businesses kept the lights on and houses warm in America, and supported communities during an unprecedented crisis, all while we continued to build cleaner resources,” said BCSE President Lisa Jacobson.
While natural gas was the largest source of power generation in the US last year at 41%, ‘zero’ carbon sources comprising renewables and nuclear power met 40% of the total demand. At the same time, coal fired power contributed 19% due to weak demand and preference for lower carbon power sources.
Lower electricity costs with the help of renewable energy and their own sustainability goals are incentives enough for corporates to opt for these clean energy technologies. In 2020, 65 companies joined RE100 initiative to expand their use of renewables, yet the pandemic pulled down the rate of corporate power purchase agreements (PPA) for wind/solar to 11.9 GW in 2020, out of 23.7 GW signed globally (see 23.7 GW Corporate Clean Energy PPAs Signed In 2020).
“Solar has become the dominant clean energy technology sought by corporations. This is emblematic of a growing power markets expertise among buyers, who are trying to capture peak power pricing, which solar tends to capture better than wind,” reads the report. “Additionally, many wind projects in popular markets like ERCOT and SPP have seen their revenues erode as more zero marginal cost clean energy is built, which depresses prices. This has prompted companies to instead seek solar contracts in these markets.”
Lower electricity demand due to lockdown measures in place lowered the country’s carbon emissions by 9% to end 2020 20% below 2005 levels setting it on track to meet its Paris Agreement goal. However, in 2021 emissions are likely to rebound with economic recovery. What would also continue to accelerate renewables in the country would be a favorable policy environment under a new federal leadership, according to the report.
The Sustainable Energy in America Factbook can be downloaded for free from BCSE’s website.