Chart: US clean energy installations fall for first time in 5 years

Canary Media’s chart of the week translates crucial data about the clean energy transition into a visual format.

For the U.S. energy transition, 2022 was a year that contained multitudes.

On the one hand, the country passed a historic climate law that has already spurred billions in clean energy investment and inspired copycats around the world. On the other hand, U.S. utility-scale clean energy installations dropped for the first time in five years — a worrisome development when the world must set a new record for clean energy deployment every year to meet climate goals.

In 2022, the U.S. installed nearly 26 gigawatts of utility-scale wind, solar and battery storage capacity, according to a new report from American Clean Power, a trade group. That’s down about 15 percent from 2021’s record-setting total of 30 GW, making last year the third-best year for clean energy deployment in the U.S.

The slowdown was the result of a tangle of familiar challenges, including supply-chain bottlenecks, interconnection queues and permitting delays, per ACP. Solar deployment was also hampered by last spring’s solar tariff kerfuffle, which temporarily ground the industry to a halt.

In total, more than 53 GW of clean energy capacity was impacted by delays by the end of last year, far more than the 11 GW that were held up in 2021. Solar accounts for more than two-thirds of those delays, which ACP attributes primarily to challenges around sourcing panels in light of trade restrictions.

While utility-scale solar and wind developments both fell, utility-scale storage installations were an undeniable bright spot last year. More than 4 GW of energy storage were added in the U.S., making the country’s total battery storage operating capacity 80 percent higher than it was in 2021. It’s the second year in a row of tremendous growth for the storage sector, which more than doubled in total capacity between 2020 and 2021, thanks largely to installations in the country’s two renewable energy giants, California and Texas.

Although utility-scale deployments lagged, residential solar had a strong 2022, with new installations growing to 6 GW, up 40 percent compared to the prior year, according to a March report from the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie.

Clean energy hasn’t yet shaken off its slump so far this year. In the first three months of 2023, around 4 GW of utility-scale clean energy capacity were installed, down 36 percent from a year prior, according to a separate ACP report released this week. That said, the project development pipeline was up 11 percent from a year prior and up 62 percent from 2021.

Taking a step back, even with the slowdown, clean energy accounted for 79 percent of all new power capacity added in 2022.

And now let’s take an even bigger step back: Last year, a report found that solar and wind were expanding fast enough worldwide to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius — but only if the renewable sector maintains its previously blistering pace of growth.