US solar generation up 25% in 2021, renewables’ share of power mix set to exceed coal in 2022

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The US will add almost 22GW of new utility-scale solar capacity this year, according to the report. Image: Blue Oak Energy

Solar power generation in the US rose by 25.23% in 2021, making it the country’s fastest-growing source of electricity, while renewables accounted for 21.02% of all electricity and look set to surpass coal in terms of total production in 2022.

The figures, released in the US Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Electric Power Monthly report, slightly exceeded predictions made by the EIA at the start of the year but were on par with mid-year data, according to a Sun Day Campaign analysis of the data.

The EIA now expects renewables’ share of US electrical generation to exceed 22% this year and surpass that of coal.

In November, a Sun Day Campaign analysis showed that the first nine months of 2021 saw US utility-scale solar additions reach 8,410MW –  a 38% increase on the same period in 2020 – but the EIA expects 21.8GW of new utility-scale solar capacity and 4.4GW of small-scale solar capacity to come online in 2022. It also predicts 7.6GW of new wind capacity to come online this year.

Taken together, solar and wind grew by 15.96% in 2021 and accounted for more than one-eighth (13.05%) of US electrical generation – wind stood at 9.12%, while solar was at 3.93%.

Natural gas remained as the top source of US electricity generation with a 37.82% share (down from 40.12% in 2020), while coal rebounded into second place (21.58% share), growing 16.20% compared to 2020. 

Solar and wind combined now provide more than three-fifths (62.08%) of the generation by renewable sources as they continue to outstrip all other renewable growth in the US.

Solar’s share is set to jump significantly over the coming years, with FERC data suggesting that of the 106GW of “high probably additions” between October 2021 and September 2024, around 51.8GW will be solar.

If the high probably projections materialise, solar would account for around 8.9% of the US’s installed utility-scale generating capacity in 2024, Sun Day had previously said.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has called for solar to reach 30% of all US electricity generation by 2030, which it said would require the solar sector to deploy more than 700GWdc over the next decade to have nearly 850GWdc of installed capacity.

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