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U.S. wind and solar power keep surprising

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Kent Knutson's picture
Energy Market Specialist Hitachi Energy USA Inc.

Kent Knutson is a market specialist focusing on energy industry intelligence for Hitachi Energy.  He has more than 30 years of experience designing and developing intelligence products for some...

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In 2020, despite the economic slowdown, and a 2.9% decline in overall U.S. electricity production, wind and solar flourished – power generation by the two resources increased by 16.7%.  Electricity production from combined wind and solar resources has grown from 93.4 GWh in 2010 to 428.3 GWh in 2020.  During 2020, wind accounted for 8.4% of all power generation in the U.S., and solar contributed 2.3% of the nation’s power output – up from 2.2% for wind and only three-hundredths of 1% for solar in 2010.

U.S. wind and solar electricity production, MWh

 

Wind added 15.4 GW, and solar added 10.9 GW of new capacity during the year, according to data compiled by the Hitachi ABB Power Grids’ Velocity Suite research team. Those figures represent record yearly capacity additions.  Wind capacity grew by a phenomenal 67.2% from 2019, while solar realized a 63.4% annual increase.  The record wind additions recorded in 2020 were 27.1% higher than in 2012, which was the highest previous annual buildout before this year.  Solar additions were 17.1% higher than in 2016, which was the year with the highest previous annual increase in solar plant commissioning before 2020.

 

U.S. wind capacity additions, MW

 

By the end of 2020, cumulative operating wind capacity across the U.S. was around 120 GW, while the cumulative buildout reached 55 GW of operating solar capacity.  In 2010, just one decade ago, operating wind capacity was only 1.8 GW, while solar was virtually non-existent. 

 

U.S. utility-scale solar capacity additions, MW

 

Growth driven by several factors

 

Attractive federal and state tax incentives and new investment by utilities and corporations to meet ever-growing clean-energy goals have driven the recent increases.  In December 2020, the U.S. Congress passed and enacted legislation that included extensions to the two most prominent renewable energy tax incentives – the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) and the Investment Tax Credit (ITC).  The PTC, which supports wind among other renewable resources, was extended one year, while the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which supports solar, among other renewables, and now energy storage projects, was extended by 2-years.  Projects starting construction in 2020 or 2021 qualify for PTC at 60% of the original rate on the electricity output for ten years or an 18% ITC on the project cost in the year the project is put in service. Production tax credits at 60% of the original full-rate are currently $15 per MWh.  The change was retroactive.  The ITC allows for a 26% tax credit for commercial solar investments through the end of 2022, drops to 22% by the end of 2023, and 10% by the end of 2024.  Projects must commence construction during the calendar year to qualify for tax credits in future years. After that, the window for the project to reach completion is four years, but there are currently ongoing discussions to extend the period.  Additionally, the newly enacted legislation provides a 30% ITC tax credit for offshore-wind projects if they have commenced-to-construct between January 1, 2017, and December 31, 2025.

The growth in renewables is not expected to slow anytime soon 

Driven by these tax incentives and secured power purchase agreements, investors have moved rapidly to develop more renewable projects.  Our Velocity Suite research group has identified 18.7 GW of utility-scale solar projects currently under construction, testing, or undergoing site preparation – 73.3% (13.7 GW) are expected online in 2021.  For wind, those numbers include 14.5 GW, with 92.3% (13.3 GW) expected online this year.  Along with projects that have broken ground, there are numerous renewable energy projects that have applications pending or are currently permitted, including 12.8 GW of wind and 17.8 GW of solar that could be online over the next year or two.  Already, through March 17, 2021, more than 1.5 GW of wind and 1.3 GW of solar have come online and are currently generating electricity across the country. 

The rapid solar growth is tied closely to a new boom in battery energy storage. According to the DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA), 4.3 GW of new storage projects are projected online in 2021, with most expected during the second half of the year.  This forecast buildout represents a four-fold growth in battery storage over 2020. The world’s largest solar-powered battery (409 MW) is currently under construction at Manatee Solar Energy Center in Florida.  The company has scheduled the huge battery to be online by late 2021.

Major solar projects performance

In 2019, the top generating solar farm was Consolidated Edison’s Copper Mountain Solar farm in Nevada.  The 561 MW facility generated more than 1.34 GWh at an annual capacity factor of 27.2%.  Following Copper Mountain was NextEra Energy’s Desert Sunlight Solar (1.30 GWh/26.3%) and Berkshire Hathaway’s Topaz Solar Farm (1.26 GWh/26.2%), both located in California.  Six of the top ten largest generating solar farms in 2019 are in California.  Of the top 10 facilities, Abengoa SA’s concentrating solar power (CPS) Solana Generating Station in Arizona reported the highest capacity factor at 32.3%.  Solana is the only non-photo-voltaic (PV) solar facility in the Top 10 list.      

U.S. large-scale solar farms operational statistics in 2019


Note: Final 2020 annual figures for individual projects are not fully available yet

Major wind projects performance          

In 2019, the top generating wind farm in the U.S. was Energy Capital Partners 1,550 MW Alta Wind Energy Center in California.  The facility produced 3.1 GWh with a 22.5% annual capacity factor.  NextEra Energy’s Horse Hollow (2.5 GWh) and Capricorn Ridge Wind Farm (2.2 GWh) were the second and third largest generating wind farms – both in Texas.  Five of the top 10 highest producing facilities in 2019 were in Texas, with two in Colorado. Of the top 10 power producers, Tri Global Energy’s South Plains Wind Energy, Starwood Capital Group’s Horse Creek Wind, both in Texas, reported the two highest capacity factors at 43.1% and 43.7%, respectively.  The wind farm reporting the highest capacity factor (1.74 GWh/48.4%), RWE Group’s Grandview Wind Farm, is just outside the Top-Ten list.

U.S. large wind farms operational statistics in 2019


Note: Final 2020 annual figures for individual projects are not fully available yet

With continued support from federal and state tax credits, driven by expanding renewable energy mandates, utilities, communities, and corporations will continue to invest heavily in wind, solar, energy storage, and much-needed grid infrastructure over the next several years.  Investment in clean electricity in America has never been brighter.  

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 22, 2021

Additionally, the newly enacted legislation provides a 30% ITC tax credit for offshore-wind projects if they have commenced-to-construct between January 1, 2017, and December 31, 2025.

This shouldn't be undersold-- all the progress with wind has been great, but with the U.S. offshore wind market finally looking to come into focus there will be a nice pivot point upwards with even more wind generation that was previously untapped

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Mar 22, 2021

The only people who should be surprised with these great results are the doubters. Also the old thinkers who promised Nuclear would be too cheap to meter. That promise has been met with Wind and Solar. 

     Today we should also mention and not be surprised that advanced Battery Storage is making low cost but intermittent Wind a solid 24/7  winner. It is also making Solar PV that comes when we need it most into even more valuable by storing the excess for use anytime it is needed. 

   These are true Renewable Energy Sources that will continue to grow.  When you put Wind and Solar in with Hydro and Geo-Thermal we can run the entire world and save money and the environment at the same time. It is no surprise to me. 

   

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 22, 2021

Jim, nowhere in the world is "intermittent wind a solid 24/7 winner." Maybe you haven't heard, but for several days in February wind was a solid 24/7 loser in Texas - with catastrophic results.

And your "advanced battery storage"? On any kind of scale to power an electrical grid, it doesn't exist - and never will.

Not even climate change denial is worse for addressing climate change than the fevered visions issuing from the Church of Renewables.

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