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Record-Breaking Renewables

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Nevelyn Black's picture
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Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

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According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to avoid catastrophic climate change, clean sources of energy such as wind and solar power will have to account for the vast majority of electricity within the next few decades.  That said, renewables are booming in the United States.  Nine U.S. cities now produce more solar power than the entire U.S. did 10 years ago.   Honolulu is leading the way in solar capacity per person, followed by Las Vegas and San Diego.  According to the Department of Energy, the U.S. now has 121.4 gigawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity. That’s enough energy to power 23 million homes.   

Not to be outdone, wind power broke a record on March 29, by exceeding both coal and nuclear energy for the first time, for a period of over 24-hours. Granted, March is one of the windiest months in the northern hemisphere but this groundbreaking feat can also be attributed to the number of new wind installations.  13.9 gigawatts of new wind capacity were added in 2021 and 14.2 gigawatt were installed in 2020. 

Globally, a surge in offshore installations has lifted wind capacity additions to nearly 100 GW in 2021.  China is in the lead with 51 percent of wind additions, followed by the United States with 15 percent.   “China managed to install more offshore wind capacity than the rest of the world has in the past five years combined,” said Harry Morgan, Rethink Energy’s wind power analyst and lead author of Global Wind Power Forecast – entering boom phase by 2025.

A significant increase in solar capacity has also been noted.  According to a new study from Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group, 15 of the 56 cities included in the study increased their solar capacity tenfold since 2014.  “Much of the recent growth of solar energy is the result of public policy,” said a DOE report. “Federal tax credits for renewable energy have played a key role in encouraging growth in solar power."

Not too long ago, the reliability of renewables was regularly called into question.  Many doubted utility-scale renewables could be used and the production and installation costs were far too high.  Most recently, COVID delayed projects in progress and halted plans for new projects.  The pandemic left in its path a very frustrated clean energy workforce.  Now, even after renewable energy has overcome so many obstacles, rural communities are concerned about the effect wind and solar will have on land and crops in the Midwest.  “The transition to clean energy is so important for our future, that I do get concerned when I see policies proposed that could stop or stifle renewable development here.” Kerri Johannsen, energy program director for the Iowa Environmental Council continued,  “At the same time, I’ve been immersed in some of these conversations long enough to feel optimistic that we’re going to be able to keep moving forward,”said Johannsen,.

Despite facing one hurdle after the next, utility-scale renewables are gaining momentum.  Duke Energy's first solar plant in Surry County, N.C., just came online while MidAmerica Energy is fighting in court for a wind expansion project.   

"We need solar power to continue expanding rapidly for the remainder of this decade, and we need other renewable energy sources like offshore wind to also come online at scale,” said Johanna Neumann, senior director for Environment America's Campaign for 100% Renewable Energy. "Not only will we have cleaner air to breathe, healthier communities, but we also stand the best possible chance at keeping global temperatures to a level that will prevent the worst impacts of climate change. Growing clean energy needs to be a key part of that."

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