US utility-scale solar deployment jumps 38%

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The 227MWac Muscle Shoals project in Alabama went online in September. Image: Ørsted.

The first nine months of 2021 saw US utility-scale solar additions reach 8,410MW, a 38% increase on the same time last year, according to an analysis of new government data by research organisation Sun Day Campaign.

The jump in deployment meant solar led additions, representing 44% of the total 19,022MW utility-scale generation capacity installed in the country between January and September, followed closely by wind, with 8,188MW deployed.

Renewables accounted for nearly 88% of new capacity added during the nine months, up from 64% during the same period last year, data from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) showed.

Solar and wind represented all of the 915MW of capacity additions in September 2021, when PV projects such as the 227MWac Muscle Shoals plant in Alabama were connected to the grid.

The latest additions mean solar represents more than 5% of the US’s installed utility-scale generating capacity, up from 0.14% in September 2011.

The FERC update only includes data for utility-scale facilities and does not reflect the capacity of rooftop solar, which, if added, would take solar’s total capacity up to above 7% of the nation’s generating capacity, according to Sun Day Campaign.

“Whether one compares solar’s growth to that of last year or a decade ago or three years hence, the conclusion is the same – it has been, and continues to be, explosive,” said Ken Bossong, executive director at Sun Day Campaign. “And this growth can only accelerate if recent COP26 commitments are kept and the proposed federal Build Back Better legislation is enacted into law.”

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 said.

Having reached more than 100GW of deployed solar earlier this year, the US is set to average more than 29GW of new solar capacity additions until 2026, according to analysis published in September from research firm Wood Mackenzie, which has since suggested that an extension of the country’s solar investment tax credit could increase PV deployment by more than 40% over the next decade.

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