America’s clean energy sector is experiencing a banner year. Look no farther than the top stories of the year. In 2021 alone, the United States reaffirmed its commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement and set significant national carbon reduction and sustainable energy targets. As the year 2021 comes to a close, ACP examines the top five clean power trends of the year.
Clean energy is expanding at an unprecedented rate
This year, the United States established an ambitious target of using 100% sustainable energy sources to power the electric system by 2035. Meeting this commendable objective would need considerable increases in clean power installations, and the clean energy sector’s 2021 installs are a huge step in the right direction.
Wind, solar, and energy storage installations have all reached new highs in 2021. Through the third quarter of the year, approximately 7.2 gigatonnes (GW) of new wind capacity was added in the United States, enough to power almost 2.2 million households. That is about one gigatonne higher than overall capacity added until the third quarter of 2020, and nearly double the wind capacity installed during the same period in 2019. The increase in solar installations has been much more dramatic. Through the third quarter of the year, a record 7.8 GW of new solar power went online, representing a 2 GW increase over the first nine months of 2020 and a 235% gain over 2019.
Solar capacity built recently is enough to power over 1.5 million households across the country. The development of these wind and solar installations has also resulted in tremendous growth in the energy storage sector. Over 450 megawatts (MW) of storage capacity came online in the first three quarters of 2020, a record at the time. In 2021, new storage capacity surpassed 2020 by over 1 GW, with 1.4 GW coming online by the third quarter of the year, a 211% increase.
With over 900 clean power projects presently under construction around the country, we are likely to witness record years for installations in the future. Over 110 GW of clean generating capacity is presently under construction. With roughly 59.6 GW of capacity in advanced development or under construction, solar has the greatest capacity in the pipeline. As of the end of the third quarter, land-based wind had over 25.6 25.8 GW of capacity in the pipeline, storage had over 10.2 GW, and offshore wind had approximately 14.3 GW of capacity projected to come online over the next decade.
Customers in the corporate and utility sectors are driving growth
Commercial and utility customers continue to sign record-breaking power purchase agreements, fueling expansion in land-based wind, solar, and storage throughout the country. Commercial and industrial clients have announced roughly 5.7 GW of renewable power purchase agreements until the third quarter of 2021. Solar accounted for the vast bulk of these business purchases, accounting for more than 60% of all power purchase announcements this year. This is a 10% increase over the first three quarters of 2020. During the first three quarters of the year, utility power offtakers announced roughly 7.5 GW of power purchase agreements.
Power purchase agreements are assisting businesses and brands in meeting their sustainability obligations and powering their operations with 100 percent renewable energy sources. Because of the constantly declining prices of wind and solar energy, PPAs have become an increasingly cost-effective solution for corporate buyers to secure long-term price certainty, frequently at a lower price than the prevailing market rate.
The Potential for Offshore Wind Energy Has Never Been Greater
The year 2021 was an exciting one for offshore wind. This year’s offshore wind procurement was a record-breaker, with approximately 8.4 GW bought through state grants in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, and Massachusetts. Over 17.5 GW of offshore wind power has entered advanced development to far. Vineyard Wind, the first commercial-scale offshore wind farm in the United States to receive government clearance, began onshore construction in 2021 and will begin placing steel in the sea in 2022.
The Biden Administration declared last year an ambitious but attainable aim of 30 GW of offshore wind by 2030, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has taken considerable efforts toward that goal. BOEM published an Offshore Wind Leasing Path Forward 2021-2025 in October, outlining a strategy to undertake lease auctions in seven zones around the country. The first of these, to be conducted in the New York Bight, is scheduled to take place in the first quarter of 2022. In December, ACP released an analysis that forecasts the federal revenue that BOEM could expect to receive from the sale of area leases, as well as the long-term rents and operating fees paid by projects developed in those areas, as well as the economic benefits and jobs that would be created as projects are built. According to the estimate, if BOEM’s roadmap is implemented, over $4.5 billion in new government income may be produced, supporting 128,000 construction employment and an additional 48,000 operations and maintenance jobs. With lease auctions planned for Carolina Long Bay, Northern and Central California, and the Gulf of Mexico next year, 2022 is shaping up to be another great year for offshore wind.
Developing a Workforce for the Next Generation
Clean energy is a job creator’s dream. Over 415,000 Americans currently work in the industry across all 50 states, with wind turbine service technicians and solar installers among the top five fastest expanding employment in the country. Unions are also well-represented in the clean energy industry, with unionization rates in wind, solar, and battery storage areas above the national private sector average. These patterns are likely to persist. Over the next decade, the total number of Americans employed by sustainable energy might reach one million. According to ACP’s Clean Energy Labor Supply Report, attaining 50% to 70% clean energy by 2030 will generate between 500,000 and 600,000 employment throughout the development and construction of new clean energy projects.
A More Clean Environment
Clean energy is a crucial driver in the battle against climate change, and the shift to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar is critical to decreasing greenhouse gases and meeting our nation’s emissions reduction targets. Wind and solar power now account for more than 11.5% of total electricity output in the United States. Wind generation accounts for 8.9% of total generation, while solar generation accounts for 2.7%. When paired with other technologies such as hydroelectric power, the United States obtains roughly 20% of its electricity from renewable energy sources.
Wind and solar production averted an estimated 380 million metric tons of CO2 from being emitted into the environment in 2021. That is the equivalent of removing 82 million automobiles from the road. Wind and solar installations also reduced the discharge of approximately 200,000 metric tons of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, both of which are harmful to human health. Reduced levels of these toxic chemicals assist to minimize pollution as well as the prevalence of asthma attacks and other respiratory disorders. Clean power projects in the works may save an additional 195 million metric tons of CO2 per year, implying that the renewable energy sector will be doing even more to reduce climate change and preserve human health.
With ongoing industry momentum, supporting clean energy infrastructure, and stable tax policies in place, clean power can build on its 2021 record growth trajectory and become one of the country’s main energy sources in the new year. Additional legislative action underway to invest in clean energy will deploy additional projects, generate more American jobs, and deliver greater economic benefits to communities throughout the country as we all fight to accelerate our clean energy future.