Renewable energy sources like solar and wind are consistently outpacing the new deployment of fossil fuels and nuclear energy in the United States. In April 2022, wind and solar combined produced 17.96% more electricity than all of the country’s nuclear power plants, according to an analysis of EIA data by the SUN DAY Campaign. This was the first time renewables outproduced nuclear power in the United States.
That trend continued throughout 2022, with renewable energy sources providing nearly 23% of U.S. electrical generation through September. U.S. solar output increased by 25.68% over those nine months, providing 6% of the country’s electrical load. Solar generation increased by 21% in September 2022 alone.
“As we begin 2023, it seems likely that renewables will provide nearly a quarter — if not more — of the nation’s electricity during the coming year,” said Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign, in a press release. “And it is entirely possible that the combination of just wind and solar will outpace nuclear power and maybe even that of coal during the next 12 months.”
Over the last five years, renewable energy sources have claimed second place in terms of national electricity generation, pushing coal to third place and nuclear to fourth. Despite that leap, the United States did see a 17% decrease in total installed solar capacity in 2022 compared to 2021, according to the “U.S. Solar Market Insight” report, published by SEIA and Wood Mackenzie.
The industry installed 4.6 GW of solar in the United States in both Q2 and Q3 2022, but it is still less than its output from 2021. Wood Mackenzie suggested the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act — legislation banning all goods imported from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China under suspicion of alleged forced labor practices — is preventing the United States from taking full advantage of recent Inflation Reduction Act incentives aimed at the solar industry.
Supply chain constraints tightened further with the Dept. of Commerce’s recent preliminary decision to apply antidumping/countervailing duties to solar imports from Chinese solar cell and panel producers operating in Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.
“America’s clean energy economy is hindered by its own trade actions,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of SEIA, in a press release. “The solar and storage industry is acting decisively to build an ethical supply chain, but unnecessary supply bottlenecks and trade restrictions are preventing manufacturers from getting the equipment they need to invest in U.S. facilities.
Despite these hurdles, utility-scale solar was still the most-installed form of electricity in 2022 at 6.75 GW, outpacing wind at 6.32 GW and natural gas at 6.08 GW, according to FERC reports. And the residential market saw a 43% increase from 2021, installing 1.57 GW of new solar in Q3 2022.
Additionally, FERC anticipates a solar project pipeline of at least 71 GW. Meanwhile, the natural gas industry is expected to retire more capacity than it will install over the next three years.
“A sharp increase in FERC’s three-year forecast for wind and solar within just the last month coupled with an apparent peaking of natural gas seem to confirm that the nation has finally turned a corner on its transition to sustainable energy sources,” Bossong said.
This story is part of SPW’s 2023 Trends in Solar. Read all of this year’s trends here.