Solar power accounted for 3% of U.S. electricity generation from all sources in 2020. Now, the Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts that solar generation will make up 14% of the U.S. total in 2035 and 20% in 2050.
The numbers include electricity generated from both utility-scale (those of 1 MWt or more generating capacity) and small-scale (less than 1 MW) solar facilities in the electric power, residential, commercial, and industrial sectors.
EIA said that increases in small-scale solar, particularly in the commercial and residential sectors, drove much of the early growth in U.S. solar electricity net generation. In 2011, small-scale solar accounted for 68% of total U.S. solar electricity net generation. However, utility-scale solar generation increased substantially during the past decade as average construction costs for solar power plants fell.
In its long-term projections, EIA said the electric power sector will continue to produce the most solar generation, increasing from 68% of total solar generation in 2020 to 78% in 2050. The growing share of utility-scale generation is due in part to the availability of a 10% Investment Tax Credit (ITC) after 2023; in contrast, the ITC for small-scale solar has expired.
In one scenario in which natural gas prices were modeled to be higher than in baseline assumptions, EIA said that solar generation can reach as much as 25% of total generation by mid-century. In another case in which installed costs of renewables are lower than in the baseline scenario, solar generation was forecast to make up 27% of total generation by 2050.
Last spring, BloombergNEF published a forecast that said solar was poised to see five years of record-setting large-scale capacity additions. It predicted that the U.S. more than 20 GW of large scale solar each year. It said that both large- and small-scale solar will grow during the years that tax credit extensions are available.
Over the coming decade, customer-sited solar capacity were forecast to add on average more than 8 GW a year. Over one-third of all new systems were expected to be built in California.
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