US installed near-record 15GW of big solar and wind in 2016: EIA

The US installed around 15GW of new utility-scale solar and wind in 2016, just below the previous record set in 2012, according to preliminary figures from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

All told, the US added about 24GW of new power-generation capacity last year, with utility-scale renewables accounting for 63% of the total—the third consecutive year the figure has been above 50%.

According to the EIA, the US installed around 6.5GW of new wind in 2016, roughly average for the sector since 2010. That makes 2016 the second year in which the US installed more solar than wind, a trend many analysts expect to continue in the years ahead.

The only time the mix of large renewables has been higher was in 2015, at 66%, but that came on a substantially lower base of overall power-generation additions.

2012 remains the high-water mark for new deployment of utility-scale renewables, with slightly more than 15GW added in that year. However, that record performance was fueled by 13.1GW of new wind, an outlier for the sector, as developers raced to beat the then-deadline for the production tax credit.

By comparison, the strong figures from 2016 are remarkable because the late-2015 extensions of the PTC and the solar investment tax credit still allow developers several more years to build projects, meaning many have pushed construction into 2017 and beyond. As a result, installation figures are likely to be even higher for the next few years.

Final 2016 numbers have not yet been tallied. According to the American Wind Energy Association, just 1.7GW of new wind had been added through the third quarter, but the EIA expects nearly 5GW came online in the fourth quarter. That includes the first US offshore wind farm, Deepwater Wind’s 30MW Block Island. 

The fourth quarter was also huge for solar, and likely the largest on record, although solar installations were spread somewhat more evenly through the year.

GTM Research previously forecast 14.1GW of new US solar installations in 2016, but that includes utility-scale and smaller projects, and the latter is not included in EIA’s headline figure.

One vulnerability for solar is the residential market, where growth has slowed recently, in part due to policy uncertainty at the state level.