Wind and Solar Are Breaking Records for Energy Production in 2021

The renewable energy revolution is gathering pace in the United States after record-breaking additions of green energy to its electricity generation capacity.   

According to figures released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), wind power has led the way, with a record 14.2GW of capacity added in 2020, bringing its total output potential to 118GW. In 2020, that meant 8.4% of national electricity generation came from wind turbines, with that anticipated to rise to 10% this year.   

Much of the addition was thanks to the U.S. production tax credit phaseout. The credit, known as PTC, is a per-kilowatt-hour (kWh) credit for electricity generated by eligible renewable sources. Congress recently extended PTC at 60% (18 cents per kWh, or $18 per megawatt-hour) to encourage further renewables investment. Wind projects must start construction, operation, or spend at least 5% of the total capital costs before December 31, 2021, to qualify for PTC.   

Several states are leading this wind power revolution. Texas boasts 20% of its electricity production from wind turbines; the Lone Star state had 30.2 GW capacity as of December 2020. Some 58% of Iowa’s electricity comes from wind, with Kansas following at 43%.   

More than half of 2021’s wind capacity additions (12.2GW) in the U.S. will be in Texas and Oklahoma. The largest project coming online this year being the 999-megawatt (MW) Traverse wind farm in Oklahoma. 

Solar Power Coming To the Fore 

Solar will push ahead of wind this year with an anticipated record-breaking 15.4GW extra generation capacity. Solar will account for some 39% of all new production capacity this year compared to 31% for wind, beating the 12GW of solar added last year.   

Texas is again at the forefront of this renewable surge, responsible for 28% of new utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity. Nevada and California (9% each) and North Carolina (7%) are the other big solar movers.   

In total, renewables will provide 81% of all electricity generation capacity additions this year. In comparison, natural gas will put 6.6GW (16%) more into the new electricity power mix. 

The Future Is Renewable Energy 

The United States’ electricity market is slowly shifting towards renewables. It will soon reach almost a quarter of the country’s total electricity production.   

Natural gas will drop from 39% of overall electricity creation in 2020 to 35% in 2022. Over the same timeframe, renewables’ share will increase from 20% to 23%, and nuclear drops from 21% to 19%. Bucking the trend is coal, anticipated to rise from 20% market share to 23%. 

Battery Power’s Rise in the Energy Mix 

One of renewable energy’s biggest issues is how to store power during periods of excess production — this has created a boom in battery storage capacity.   

Batteries store energy and release it into the grid when renewables are not producing energy — for example, at night for solar panels or on days when there isn’t much breeze for wind turbines. This year will see 4.3GW of battery power additions, about 11% of all new renewable energy production capacity. The world’s largest solar-powered battery (409 MW) at Manatee Solar Energy Center in Florida should be operational by the end of 2021. 

Not Quite Net-Zero Emissions … Yet 

The EIA estimated that the country’s CO2 emissions dropped 11% in 2020 due to weaker demand caused by the COVID-19 crisis.   

It predicts 2021’s emissions will be 6% greater than in 2020 and a further 2% higher in 2022 as the economy recovers. Electricity production in the United States brings more renewables online each year, making the longer-term goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 inch closer to reality. 

Opinion writer: Tom Shearman

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