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U.S. energy transition must speed up to meet net-zero goals, industry group says

Headwinds caused by supply chain constraints, the coronavirus pandemic, and trade disputes flattened clean energy growth in the U.S. in 2021, according to a trade group's annual report.
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Headwinds caused by supply chain constraints, the coronavirus pandemic, and trade disputes flattened clean energy growth in the U.S. in 2021, according to a trade group's annual report.

The American Clean Power Association (ACP) tallied 28.5 GW of new clean energy projects -- wind, utility-scale solar, and battery storage -- brought online in 2021. The U.S. now has more than 200 GW of clean power capacity.

ACP also said that for the first time, non-utility customers led Power Purchase Agreement announcements in 2021, accounting for 57% of clean power purchase announcements. Amazon, Meta and TotalEnergies were the largest corporate purchasers of clean energy in 2021.

But the Clean Power Annual Market Report 2021 warned that clean energy deployment was flat from 2020 to 2021. If last year's rate continued, the U.S. would only deploy 35% of the clean energy needed to meet its net-zero target by 2035, ACP said.

Around 10 GW of clean energy projects expected to come online in 2021 were delayed.

Texas led the country in clean power installations in 2021, installing 7,690 MW. California came in second with 2,852 MW installed, followed by Oklahoma with 1,408 MW and Florida with 1,382 MW. In total, seven states installed more than 1 GW of new clean power capacity in 2021, the report said.

ACP CEO Heather Zichal said "uncertainty" in 2022 is fueled by stalled extensions to clean energy tax credits, constraints on solar panel supply caused by the Department of Commerce's investigation into imports from Southeast Asia, and inflation.

Commerce is investigating a claim by San Jose, Calif.-based Auxin Solar that alleges modules imported from Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia are skirting U.S. trade duties against China.

The investigation could lead to tariffs of 50-250% on modules imported from Southeast Asia, where the U.S. sources more than 80% of its module supply. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo has attempted to tamp down fears of her agency imposing the strictest penalty, however.

"Continued and arguably heightened uncertainty brought about by challenges to existing trade precedent like this year’s Department of Commerce inquiry into solar module tariffs are already taking a toll as we see projects canceled and delayed," Zichal said.

Zichal, with support from the Solar Energy Industries Association and other clean energy trade groups, is leading a $5 million campaign against the Auxin Solar tariff petition.

(Zichal is a guest on the May 23 episode of Factor This!, the second part of a four-part series on the petition and its impact on the solar industry. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and check out our exclusive interview with Auxin Solar CEO Mamun Rashid, available now.)

The slowing of transmission buildout and pervasive interconnection issues are also putting a drag on the uptake of clean energy, the report noted.

Only 386 miles of new transmission lines were built in 2021, down from an average of 1,800 miles per year over the last decade. Only 5,000 miles of new transmission infrastructure is expected to be delivered by 2025.

ACP found that 415,000 Americans now work in the clean energy sector across all 50 states. Solar makes up the largest share of employment with more than 231,000 "majority-time" workers. The wind sector employs 116,800 and battery storage accounts for 66,700.

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