U.S. solar capacity passes 100 gigawatts after strong first quarter, but Covid challenges persist
The United States is now home to over 100 gigawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity, according to a new report, although rising costs could pose challenges to the sector.
The figures come from the latest U.S. Solar Market Insight report, released on Tuesday by the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie.
It found that America’s solar industry installed slightly more than 5 GW of photovoltaic capacity in the first three months of 2021. This represents a record for the first quarter and is 46% higher than the same period in 2020.
On a state by state level, Texas came out on top, installing more than 1.52 GW of capacity, followed by California and Florida, where 563 and 525 megawatts were installed.
Looking at the bigger picture, the report states that solar made up “58% of all new electricity-generating capacity added” in the United States during the first quarter. Wind, it says, was responsible for “most of the remainder.”
While the U.S. solar industry has now surpassed 100 GW of capacity, other markets have already reached that milestone. Toward the end of 2020, SolarPower Europe said capacity in the European Union stood at more than 137 GW.
The above figures relate to direct current, or DC, ratings as opposed to alternating current. Capacity is the maximum amount that installations can produce, not necessarily what they are currently generating, while photovoltaic refers to a way of directly converting light from the sun into electricity.
While the amount of installations in the U.S. appears to be encouraging, the sector faces some potential headwinds going forward.
“Over the last several quarters,” the report’s executive summary states, “critical components for solar equipment — polysilicon, steel, aluminum, semiconductor chips, copper and other metals — have become increasingly supply-constrained.”
It adds that a growing demand for solar, “combined with pandemic-related macroeconomic realities” — which include the availability of microchips and a hike in shipping costs — had seen commodity prices increase and deliveries delayed.
“There is a lag between commodity prices and subsequent solar system prices,” said Michelle Davis, principal analyst at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables and lead author of the report.
“But there’s no doubt this is impacting the solar industry,” she added. “Installers are managing current equipment shortages and having to decide whether to renegotiate contracts.”
While the increase in solar installations is likely to be welcome news to advocates of renewable energy, any move away from fossil fuels will be a significant challenge that requires a huge amount of change.
In the U.S., preliminary figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that natural gas and coal’s shares of utility-scale electricity generation in 2020 were 40.3% and 19.3%, respectively.
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After Paris banned electric scooters, something surprising happened in the city
Paris raised eyebrows earlier this year when the city voted to ban shared electric scooters. While privately owned electric scooters were still allowed, the thousands of shared electric scooters that were commonly used by locals and tourists were forced to vacate the city, with unexpected results.
The idea for a shared electric scooter ban was originally floated late last year in response to the growing complaints by a vocal minority of citizens who objected to their widespread use around the city. Earlier this year, the referendum went up for a vote. Ultimately, the majority of voters on the day supported the proposed ban, though extremely low turnout meant that the measure passed despite garnering ‘yes’ votes from just 7% of registered voters in Paris.
Shared electric scooters were often seen as a way for commuters to avoid driving cars and for tourists to eschew rental vehicles in favor of smaller shared e-scooters. Because the scooters weren’t privately owned, they were ideal for both groups as an on-demand transportation solution.
At their peak, 15,000 electric scooters helped riders navigate the capital city.
While many predicted that a shared electric scooter ban could have a knee-jerk reaction to return to larger vehicles, a new study has shown that the effect may have bolstered dockless bike-sharing instead.
An interesting trend has emerged comparing September 2022 and October 2022 ridership levels of dockless bikes and scooters. The total number of rides has slightly decreased this year due to the expulsion of shared electric scooter companies. However, the number of dockless bike rides skyrocketed, more than doubling in just one year.
September 2022’s roughly 750,000 dockless bike trips became nearly 2 million trips in September 2023. Similarly, October 2022 saw a nearly identical jump in ridership.
The results seem to show that despite Paris banning shared electric scooters, Parisians still seek out and use shared mobility devices. Now, they appear to have merely shifted to shared bikes instead of shared scooters.
Less than a year after the shared electric scooter ban was enacted, a modal shift towards alternative shared mobility is clearly visible in the city.
Shared electric scooters are out, but shared micromobility seems to be going strong.
Whether Parisians will take a similarly hardline approach against a new growing ridership of dockless mobility devices has yet to be seen, but could also determine the fate of dockless bikes in the city.
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Chinese EV maker Nio to spin off battery unit: report
For years, Chinese EV maker Nio has essentially done it all, delving into high-end EV manufacturing, in-house batteries, autonomous driving, and chips, as well as innovative battery-swapping tech and even making smartphones, all while pulling in huge investments and talent to make that happen. Now, according to a new report, it’s looking to lighten the load.
As reported by Reuters, Nio now plans to spin off its battery unit in hopes of turning a profit, cutting costs, and improving efficiency – and offloading some of its ambitions to pursue end-to-end strategies in EV tech. The move could take place as early as the end of this month, after which the battery unit will seek outside investors, followed by a valuation, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke to Reuters.
Nio’s current battery unit is headed by senior engineers who worked previously at Apple and Panasonic. During last year’s earnings report, CEO William Li said that the battery team comprised 400 people researching battery materials, cells, and battery management systems. In terms of the new company, the top engineers will presumably join the spin-off, while other employees will be merged into Nio’s other divisions, the report said.
Nio brought on a team of engineers “to mass-produce large cylindrical batteries similar to the Tesla 4680 in a planned plant in China’s eastern Anhui province in 2025 at the earliest,” Reuters writes. In February, reports stated that the plant would have an annual capacity to produce 40 GWh of batteries to power about 400,000 long-range EVs.
Nio of course hasn’t been immune to market pressures on EV makers, with a reported third-quarter loss of 4.56 billion yuan ($637.06 million) on Tuesday, a 10.8% increase from the same period a year ago. CEO Li, who has not mentioned any plans for a spin-off, is focusing on reassuring investors that the company isn’t in over its head, saying that they’ll cut staff by 10% and defer long-term investors to save up to 2 billion yuan in costs this year.
Nio has also partnered with Geely and state-owned Changan Automobile to develop EVs capable of battery swaps, making Nio the only passenger vehicle manufacturer advancing this potential. Nio, which already sells in Europe, is also looking to build a dealer network in the region to accelerate sales. It also has targeted 2025 as a goal for expanding to the US – no small ambition.
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