EIA: Economic headwinds may stunt US utility-scale solar growth by 10%

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Short-term hits to utility-scale solar and wind will not stop renewables from becoming the fastest growing power source in the US, the EIA believes. Image credit: Chandra Maharzan / Unsplash

New official stats have come to underscore the shadow the COVID-19 emergency may cast over US renewables, expected to take a hit despite remaining the fastest growing power source.

On Tuesday, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) slashed its US solar and wind growth forecasts for 2020 in light of the pandemic, amid claims the economic slowdown will affect the construction of new-builds “over the next few months”.

The EIA said it still expects renewables to remain the US’ fastest growing power source in 2020, with an 11% year-on-year jump in generation foreseen across all technologies. However, it now believes utility-scale solar additions will be 10% lower than it had anticipated prior to the crisis, reaching 12.6GW.

The EIA’s revision of utility-scale additions extends to the US wind sector, which it now believes will grow 5% less than anticipated and add 19.4GW. The COVID-driven drops for US renewables will be mirrored across other segments including coal, hit by the standstill of mines across the nation.

But expected declines in overall electric generation and electricity demand may spell, the EIA believes, a temporary climate reprieve. US energy-related CO2 emissions could drop by 7.5% this year – up from 2.7% in 2019 – but rebound by 3.6% in 2021, the agency said.

Talk of the COVID-19 crisis denting US solar growth has increased as the pandemic strengthened its hold on the country, with nearly 400,000 reported cases at the time of writing. Analysis by consultancy Wood Mackenzie suggests delays could hit a 2-5GWdc fleet of utility-scale PV.

The impacts are also spreading across the US residential solar sector, with top installers including Sunrun, SunPower, Sungevity and Sunworks having to resort to layoffs and other cost-cutting initiatives. Attempts to include solar relief in bipartisan COVID-19 packages have failed so far.

The EIA’s faith in renewables’ long-term growth prospects despite the pandemic echoes some of its earlier statements. In January, the agency predicted that green energy will take the largest slice of US electricity generation by 2050, doubling from 19% in 2019 to 38% in 2050.

PV Tech has set up a dedicated tracker to map out how the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting solar supply chains worldwide. You can read the latest updates here.

If you have a COVID-19 statement to share or a story on how the pandemic is disrupting a solar business anywhere in the world, do get in touch at jrojo@solarmedia.co.uk or lstoker@solarmedia.co.uk.

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