Part of NRDC’s Year-End Series Reviewing 2021 Climate & Clean Energy Developments
When it comes to renewable energy, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Clean power just keeps winning and winning in the marketplace. According to the Energy Information Administration, wind and solar power made up 62% of new electric generating capacity to come online in 2019 and 76% in 2020. Through September of 2021, these two technologies made up 74%.
The reason is crystal clear: Across most of the country, wind and solar are simply less expensive than dirty fossil fuels. And costs for wind, solar and battery technologies continue to fall.
The second offshore wind farm started operations in 2021. It’s only 12 megawatts now, but the project, off the coast of Virginia, is on track to eventually be the world’s largest offshore wind farm. And the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management approved the first utility scale offshore wind project, the Vineyard Wind 1 project, which will be 800 MW.
These are incredible achievements, but the big story of 2021 is around solar. There are more utility scale solar projects and they’re getting bigger. The same EIA data shows that in 2015, 3,462MW of utility scale solar projects came online, and largest project was 108MW. In 2020, 10,436MW of utility scale solar projects came online and the largest project was 300MW. Based on data through September, it looks like more than 10,500MW will come online in 2021 and there’s already a new 420MW solar plant operating.
As humans we’re wired to be nervous about change. So, it’s understandable that people have questions about wind and solar projects when they’re proposed in their backyards (or in the case of offshore wind, favorite ocean). And as projects grow in number and size as they are with solar, it makes sense for more questions to arise. Depending on the type of solar technology, a 420MW solar farm could require as much as 4,200 acres of land, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association. That’s about five times the size of Central Park.
We now have enough solar energy in the U.S. to power nearly 22 million homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
The Department of Energy’s Solar Futures Study looked at scenarios to decarbonize the electric grid and found that in just the next 10 years, solar would have to go from deploying about 15GW per year, which is about what we’ll see here in the U.S. next year, to 72 GW per year.
And that’s only looking at decarbonizing the electric sector. When DOE looked at decarbonizing the whole economy, it saw the need for almost twice as much solar, reaching 3,000 GW cumulative by 2050.
But the good news is that the study found that the …….