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Solar power is currently the fastest-growing electricity source in the US. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), solar power represented 43% of the generation capacity added in 2020, followed by wind at 38%. All other electricity sources only accounted for 19% of the new capacity added, and this includes fossil fuels. This growth is expected to continue, especially after the two-year extension of the 26% federal tax credit.
The growth of of solar power in the US is reflected by many large-scale projects that are being completed or announced, and the following are some examples:
|Elliot Solar||200 MW||Capital Dynamics||Northern Indiana Public Service Company||Indiana|
|Centerfield Solar||98 MW||Pine Gate Renewables||Santee Cooper||South Carolina|
|Turquoise Solar||61 MW||Greenbacker Renewable Energy Company||Apple||Nevada|
|Turkey Creek Solar||200 MW||174 Power Global||Black Hills Energy||Colorado|
|Aktina Renewable Power Project||500 MW||Rosendin Renewable Energy Group||Energy sold in the wholesale market||Texas|
|Various developers||Alliant Energy||Wisconsin|
Source: Solar Power World Online
Each year, the SEIA and Wood Mackenzie publish their Solar Market Insight Year-in-Review report. According to the latest edition, 19.2 GW of solar generation capacity were added in 2020, reaching a total capacity of 97.7 GW by the end of the year – this is enough to power 17.7 million US homes.
Energy storage has promising applications in the solar industry, since it can compensate for the variable power output of PV modules. The cost of storage still limits its applications, but several large projects are already being developed:
- Belltown Power Texas is deploying 640 MW of energy storage distributed among four sites, which will complement their solar portfolio in the state.
- 174 Power Global will deploy 1.6 GW of solar and energy storage projects in the US, as part of a joint venture with the Total Group.
- Apple is building the California Flats 240-MWh energy storage project, which will be combined by a 130-MW solar farm that is also owned by them.
In addition, the Biden Administration has pledged to reduce solar energy costs by 60% by 2030, as part of their decarbonization initiative. Another extension is being considered for solar tax credit, and the combination of lower costs with tax incentives could make PV technology very affordable.
US Solar Power Industry: Main Points in the Latest SEIA Report
The US solar industry added 19.2 GW of total capacity in 2020, and growth was concentrated in the utility sector, which represented nearly 14 GW. Activity was concentrated in Q4 2020, where solar installations broke records with 8 GW of new capacity, representing over 41% of the year’s total growth. In addition, solar power is no longer concentrated in a few states – there were 27 who deployed over 100 MW, while four states deployed over 1,000 MW.
- When solar and wind power additions are added, they represent 81% of new generation, setting a new record.
- Previously, the best year for solar and wind power had been 2015, where they accounted for 68% of the generation capacity added.
Residential solar power also broke records, with 3,194 MW deployed, and 963 MW during Q4 2020 in specific. The nonresidential sector had a slowdown of 4%, with 2,074 MW installed, but a recovery of 25% is forecast for 2021. Utility-scale projects represented most of the growth in Q4 2020, accounting for 6.3GW of the 8GW reported.
The Solar Market Insight report compiled price information for solar PV systems in each sector, and the average system prices were the following:
|Solar Industry Sector||Installed Price|
|Residential||$2.83 per W|
|Non-Residential||$1.36 per W|
|Utility, with Fixed Panels||$0.78 per W|
|Utility, with Tracking Panels||$0.91 per W|
The utility sector will continue leading growth in the US solar power industry. The SEIA and WoodMac have forecast 17.5 GW of new installations in 2021, and annual capacity additions could reach 41.8 GW by 2030. Considering all sectors, the US is expected to have 419 GW of solar power in operation by 2030, over four times more than the current installed capacity.
After the two-year extension of the 26% solar tax credit, SEIA and WoodMac have reviewed their projections. The solar capacity expected for 2021-2025 is now 17.7GW more, which represents a 17% increase with respect to their previous scenario. The outlook has improved by 25% for the residential sector, and by 15% for the nonresidential and utility sectors. By 2030, the US could be adding over 7 GW of home solar system per year, and the percentage of US homes with solar panels could increase from 4% to 13.4%.
The following table summarizes the top 5 solar power states, based on their annual capacity additions:
|Top 5 Solar States||Solar Power Growth in 2020|
|North Carolina||785 MW|
California continues to be the leading solar state, but there are now three others with annual capacity additions above 1,000 MW. On Monday 12, Catalyze Holdings LLC announced the acquisition of PermaCity, a California-based solar developer with a project pipeline of over 400 MW. As a result, Catalyze now has over 6 GW of solar power projects under development.