Renewables supplied a record 24.5% of US electricity through to April, versus 21.6% a year earlier, with the sector on track to exceed forecast performance for 2022, according to the latest figures out of the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
Clean energy sources led by wind and solar but including conventional hydropower, biomass, and geothermal, together produced 328.2 million MWh, more than any fuel type except natural gas, at 470 million MWh. Coal was third (274.1 million MWh) and nuclear fourth (251 million MWh).
Solar generation rose 32.1% to 42.6 million MWh year-on-year, while wind produced 165.8 million MWh, up 24.2%. Other renewables, all-in, contributed 22.8 million MWh. The US generated 1.33 billion MWh of electricity in the first four months.
EIA’s Electric Power Monthly includes data for electric power generated by commercial and industrial sources. For renewables, wood or wood-derived products are the main fuel.
EIA, the statistics arm of the US Department of Energy, has forecast that renewables will produce 22% of the nation’s power in 2022, up one percentage point from a year earlier. It estimates wind will provide 9% and solar 4%.
Wind through April supplied 12.4% of electricity. This declines during the summer months when wind resource is less available in late morning and afternoon peak demand periods in Texas and some other Plains states, key generators, before gradually increasing in the autumn.
The inverse occurs with utility solar which supplied 3.2% of US electricity through April. EIA anticipates this will increase to 4% in 2022.
Thought solar does well in many states in the hot late spring and summer – performing above market expectations this month in Texas, the number two solar state after California, during an ongoing heat wave – sector expansion continues to be impeded by several factors. These include federal tax policy uncertainty; 40-year high inflation; interconnection delays; labour shortages, and module availability with the industry heavily dependent on imports of polysilicon from China and finished panels from Southeast Asia.
Last month, President Joe Biden imposed a 24-month moratorium on tariffs that could be applied to panels imported from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam – 80% of total US imports – in an effort to improve industry uncertainty over supply.
Those tariffs could have resulted from a determination by the Department of Commerce that Chinese solar component suppliers were circumventing US tariffs through manufacturing activities in those nations. California-based Auxin Solar which brought to petition could sue to block implementation.
The onshore wind sector is better placed with domestic plants sourcing more than 85% of content for nacelle assembly, 60% to 75% for towers and up to 30% to 50% for blades and hubs, according to the Department of Energy's 2021 Land-based Wind Market Report.
The main challenges facing onshore wind are inflation and lack of federal policy support. Steel prices, for example, have tripled over the last year, while the cost of other inputs and electricity to operate plants have also soared.
The production tax credit expired at the end of 2021 and lack of visibility whether Congress will renew it has had a chilling effect on the industry. Most projects in development started construction from 2016-21 and qualified for the incentive at 40% to 100% value ($25/MWh) if they meet commercial year-end operation deadlines from 2022 to 2025.
In contrast, the utility solar investment tax credit applied to a project's capital cost will step down to a permanent 10% in 2023, giving it a cost advantage over wind.