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Carbon-Free Power Plants in 2021

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Solar makes up a small share of U.S. electricity production today, but it’s expected to supply 39 percent of new power plant capacity built this year according to the latest tally by the US Energy Information Administration.

Battery storage will grow to 11 percent of new capacity, with a carbon impact determined by the cleanliness of the electricity that charges them.

This tabulation spans competitive markets and states where monopoly utilities call the shots. Notably, it only counts utility-scale projects, so solar and batteries at homes and businesses will yield an even bigger clean energy tally. In any case, the numbers indicate that the power industry has not only accepted solar power but embraced it to such an extent that it dominates new construction. Of the new plants built this year, 84 percent will deliver electricity without burning fossil fuels. How’s that for a cooling-off period.

That’s a remarkable shift from the market landscape just a few years ago and reflects continued cost declines as the industry scales up and the renewable supply chains mature. The numbers arrive as the incoming Biden administration is contemplating major legislation to stimulate the economy and grapple with planet-warming emissions at the same time.

In the past, when solar was more expensive, opponents of clean energy investment framed it as a threat to the economy. Former President Donald Trump made that case when he pulled out of the Paris climate agreement, which he alleged would impose “draconian financial and economic burdens.”

But clean energy looks less threatening to industries when power companies themselves overwhelmingly choose it to meet their needs. In recent years, nearly all major publicly traded utility companies have pledged to zero out their carbon emissions by 2050. That’s not as aggressive a timeline as president Joe Biden’s proposed deadline of 2035 for a zero-carbon power system, but it is aligned on the desired end state.