US solar industry defies predictions to post growth in 2020
US solar installations are expected to increase by 43 percent this year, just short of pre-pandemic forecasts, as the industry recovers quicker than expected from the virus-related slowdown, according to a report by the Solar Energies Industries Association (SEIA) and Wood Mackenzie.
According to the US Solar Market Insight Q4 2020 report, the country’s solar companies installed 3.8GW of new solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity in Q3, a 9 percent increase from Q2 installations, and a record 19GW of new solar capacity was installed this year.
“This report points to the incredible resilience of our companies and workers in the face of the pandemic and continued demand for clean, affordable electricity sources,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association.
“It also speaks to our ability to support economic growth, even in our darkest moments. While solar will continue to grow, the next administration and Congress have an opportunity to help the solar industry reach its Solar+ Decade goals, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and tackling the climate crisis.”
The report highlights that the residential solar market – which was the hardest hit by the business impacts of the pandemic – beat recovery expectations by growing 14 percent over Q2. However, it remained below Q1 levels.
“Logically, the states with the biggest installation declines in Q2 also had the biggest recoveries in Q3, such as New York and New Jersey where restrictions were substantial,” explains Michelle Davis, senior analyst at Wood Mackenzie. “Business model adaptations, such as virtual sales tactics and pricing promotions, continued to pay dividends through the summer and fall.”
The utility-scale market was the primary driver of Q3 installations with 2.7 GW of new capacity, which represents 70 percent of all solar capacity brought online in Q3. Sun Belt states lead the way on new capacity additions this year, the report states, pointing out that Texas and Florida have both installed more than 2GW through Q3 2020.
‘For perspective, that is nearly the amount of solar that each of those states installed over 2018 and 2019 combined. The utility-scale project pipeline ballooned to a record 69.2 GW, and the U.S. is now forecast to reach 100 GW of cumulative installed solar capacity by mid-2021,’ the report states.
- In Q3, the US solar market installed 3.8GWdc of solar PV, up 9 percent from Q2 as the industry began recovering from the worst impacts of the pandemic
- A total of 9.5GWdc of new utility PV power purchase agreements was announced in Q3, bringing the contracted pipeline to a record total of 69 GWdc
- Solar accounted for 43 percent of all new electricity generating capacity added in the US through Q3 this year, beating all other generation technologies
- Wood Mackenzie forecasts a similar figure for annual growth in 2020, with more than 19 GWdc of installations expected
- Forecasts for 2021-2025 put total solar installations above 107GWdc, a 10GWdc increase from last quarter driven primarily by healthy increases to the utility-scale solar pipeline
UK must stop blundering into high carbon choices warns CCC
The UK Government must end a year of climate contradictions and stop blundering on high carbon choices, according to the Climate Change Committee as it released 200 policy recommendations in a progress to Parliament update.
While the rigour of the Climate Change Act helped bring COP26 to the UK, it is not enough for Ministers to point to the Glasgow summit and hope that this will carry the day with the public, the Committee warns. Leadership is required, detail on the steps the UK will take in the coming years, clarity on tax changes and public spending commitments, as well as active engagement with people and businesses across the country.
"It it is hard to discern any comprehensive strategy in the climate plans we have seen in the last 12 months. There are gaps and ambiguities. Climate resilience remains a second-order issue, if it is considered at all. We continue to blunder into high-carbon choices. Our Planning system and other fundamental structures have not been recast to meet our legal and international climate commitments," the update states. "Our message to Government is simple: act quickly – be bold and decisive."
The UK’s record to date is strong in parts, but it has fallen behind on adapting to the changing climate and not yet provided a coherent plan to reduce emissions in the critical decade ahead, according to the Committee.
- Statutory framework for climate The UK has a strong climate framework under the Climate Change Act (2008), with legally-binding emissions targets, a process to integrate climate risks into policy, and a central role for independent evidence-based advice and monitoring. This model has inspired similarclimate legislation across the world.
- Emissions targets The UK has adopted ambitious territorial emissions targets aligned to the Paris Agreement: the Sixth Carbon Budget requires an emissions reduction of 63% from 2019 to 2035, on the way to Net Zero by 2050. These are comprehensive targets covering all greenhouse gases and all sectors, including international aviation and shipping.
- Emissions reduction The UK has a leading record in reducing its own emissions: down by 40% from 1990 to 2019, the largest reduction in the G20, while growing the economy (GDP increased by 78% from 1990 to 2019). The rate of reductions since 2012 (of around 20 MtCO2e annually) is comparable to that needed in the future.
- Climate Risk and Adaptation The UK has undertaken three comprehensive assessments of the climate risks it faces, and the Government has published plans for adapting to those risks. There have been some actions in response, notably in tackling flooding and water scarcity, but overall progress in planning and delivering adaptation is not keeping up with increasing risk. The UK is less prepared for the changing climate now than it was when the previous risk assessment was published five years ago.
- Climate finance The UK has been a strong contributor to international climate finance, having recently doubled its commitment to £11.6 billion in aggregate over 2021/22 to 2025/26. This spend is split between support for cutting emissions and support for adaptation, which is important given significant underfunding of adaptation globally. However, recent cuts to the UK’s overseas aid are undermining these commitments.
In a separate comment, it said the Prime Minister’s Ten-Point Plan was an important statement of ambition, but it has yet to be backed with firm policies.
Baroness Brown, Chair of the Adaptation Committee said: “The UK is leading in diagnosis but lagging in policy and action. This cannot be put off further. We cannot deliver Net Zero without serious action on adaptation. We need action now, followed by a National Adaptation Programme that must be more ambitious; more comprehensive; and better focussed on implementation than its predecessors, to improve national resilience to climate change.”
Priority recommendations for 2021 include setting out capacity and usage requirements for Energy from Waste consistent with plans to improve recycling and waste prevention, and issue guidance to align local authority waste contracts and planning policy to these targets; develop (with DIT) the option of applying either border carbon tariffs or minimum standards to imports of selected embedded-emission-intense industrial and agricultural products and fuels; and implement a public engagement programme about national adaptation objectives, acceptable levels of risk, desired resilience standards, how to address inequalities, and responsibilities across society.
Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner said the report is another reminder that if the UK is to meet its ambitious climate targets there is an urgent need to scale up bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).
"As the world’s leading generator and supplier of sustainable bioenergy there is no better place to deliver BECCS at scale than at Drax in the UK. We are ready to invest in and deliver this world-leading green technology, which would support clean growth in the north of England, create tens of thousands of jobs and put the UK at the forefront of combatting climate change."
Drax Group is kickstarting the planning process to build a new underground pumped hydro storage power station – more than doubling the electricity generating capacity at its iconic Cruachan facility in Scotland. The 600MW power station will be located inside Ben Cruachan – Argyll’s highest mountain – and increase the site’s total capacity to 1.04GW (click here).
Lockdown measures led to a record decrease in UK emissions in 2020 of 13% from the previous year. The largest falls were in aviation (-60%), shipping (-24%) and surface transport (-18%). While some of this change could persist (e.g. business travellers accounted for 15-25% of UK air passengers before the pandemic), much is already rebounding with HGV and van travel back to pre-pandemic levels, while car use, which at one point was down by two-thirds, only 20% below pre-pandemic levels.