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New utility-scale renewables capacity is set to break records in 2022, hitting an all-time high of 220 gigawatts (GW) globally with investments surpassing $300 billion for solar and wind combined, a study indicates. However, a slowdown of capacity additions could be around the corner as construction start-ups of large-scale projects are expected to stall.
Utility-scale renewable capacity additions are expected to increase by 38 GW in 2022 compared with last year, boosted by the array of government targets and policies announced in the wake of the COP26 climate summit in November. Annual investments in solar and wind additions will rise to more than $300 billion, up 20% compared to last year’s total of $240 billion. The annual growth is primarily driven by surging solar PV investments, which are set to rise by 18%, from $117 billion to $138 billion.
As a result, solar PV and wind dominate the expected capacity additions, contributing 85% of the 220 GW to be installed this year. The remaining 15% is split between pumped hydro, battery, solar thermal, and storage. Although battery additions in 2022 will amount to only 12 GW, or 6% of total new renewable capacity, this represents a huge jump for the sector as worldwide battery installations are projected to reach a total of 24.6 GW by the end of 2022, a 96% increase over 2021 capacity. The hydrogen pipeline is also set for a large increase this year, with more than 400 megawatts (MW) of capacity additions, a 70% growth on last year.
Out of the 220 GW of renewable energy capacity expected to be installed this year, 195 GW, or 88%, is already under construction, with the remaining 12% in various development stages. Solar PV accounts for 46% of the total under-construction capacity, followed by onshore wind (34%). Almost 50% of the under-construction capacity is in Asia, mainly in China and India.
“Despite record capacity additions in 2022, the outlook is not all positive. Projects expected to start construction this year will face challenging economics, delays, and even cancellation risks. For instance, rising steel prices are already having an impact on onshore wind projects, and utility-scale solar PV developers are concerned about surging commodity prices, signaling a potential downturn at least for the first half of the year,” says Gero Farruggio.
The first sign of dark clouds on the horizon is the projected fall in large-scale renewable capacity breaking ground in 2022 versus 2021. A decrease in project start-ups is expected in 2022, mainly due to rising steel prices that have constrained onshore wind projects, as the cost of steel accounts for almost 70% of the final price of wind installations. The utility PV industry may also come under pressure, at least during the first half of the year, with developers keeping a close eye on commodity price spikes. However, increased polysilicon manufacturing capacity – projected to surpass 1 million tonnes per year in 2022 – will provide some respite to prices following a 300% spike in 2021.
Asia will account for 103 GW or 46% of the total new capacity added in 2022, followed by North America with 49 GW (22%). In Asia, most of the capacity additions will come from China, which is set to account for 64 GW – around 62% of the total Asian capacity gains and 29% of the total global capacity additions. Despite the fact that China phased out national subsidies for onshore wind and solar PV at the start of this year, plans for large-scale renewable energy projects continue to be announced in the country.