The pandemic brought many solar power projects to a halt in the spring. But the industry more than made up for the lost activity later in the year and is now on track to provide more than 40 percent of the new electricity generating capacity added this year.
Solar power capacity added by the close of 2020 would be 43 percent higher than in 2019, an industry association and research firm said in a report released on Tuesday.
All told, about 43 percent of the new electricity generating capacity added this year will be from solar panels, according to the report by the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie, a research and consulting firm. Large solar farms led the growth, but residential installations also jumped between the second and third quarters of the year.
Renewable energy groups had feared that the pandemic would devastate business, but the reality was far different. As the cost of solar panels continues to fall and as concerns about climate change grow, more utilities and homeowners are deciding to go solar, often because they can save a lot of money over the life of the systems compared to paying for energy from fossil fuels. In many areas, solar panels now provide electricity at a lower cost than new coal or natural gas power plants, and in some areas they can provide power for less than existing fossil fuel plants.
The pandemic may have helped the industry: As spending on entertainment and travel fell, people had more money to consider investing in rooftop solar systems, which when paired with batteries can also serve as backup power during wildfires and storms. Utilities have also increased their reliance on solar and wind power as demand for electricity has fallen, forcing operators to cut costs and focus more on renewable sources, which are cheaper to operate.
The industry’s performance in 2020 “speaks to our ability to support economic growth, even in our darkest moments,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and chief executive of the solar association.
Texas led the nation in solar installations measured by megawatts, followed by Florida, California, South Carolina and Virginia. Except California, those states reported more installations through the first nine months of the year than in all of 2019.
After a slow start because of the pandemic, the California Solar and Storage Association said it expected to finish the year with more installations than in 2019.
About 12 million workers who rely on two federal emergency unemployment programs will lose them on Dec. 26, according to an analysis by the Century Foundation. This will add to 4.4 million Americans who will have already exhausted their federal unemployment benefits.
It projected that fewer than three million of these workers will be eligible for what are known as extended benefits, which kick in when the unemployment rate in a state is exceptionally high and can last six to 20 weeks, depending on the state.
If Congress and the administration are unable to hammer out a deal to provide additional relief, the others will be left with nothing, reports Eduardo Porter for The New York Times.
The expiring programs are Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, created for gig workers and others not covered by regular unemployment insurance, and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which extended benefits up to 13 weeks beyond their regular duration (from 12 to 30 weeks, depending on the state).
Pascal Noel, an economist at the University of Chicago, analyzed the consequences of expiring unemployment benefits with his colleague, Peter Ganong, in a study published last year. Mr. Noel noted that spending “falls substantially exactly in the month in which benefits expire, and it falls across the board.”
And that kind of shock has consequences. Mark Aguiar of Princeton and Erik Hurst of the University of Chicago have estimated that the drop in grocery spending that Professors Ganong and Noel associate with the end of unemployment benefits leads to a deterioration in diet quality: a significant decline in household consumption of fresh fruit and a jump in the consumption of hot dogs and processed lunch meat.
Jesse Rothstein of the University of California, Berkeley, and Robert Valletta of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco studied what happened when unemployment insurance ended for workers who lost their jobs during the recessions of 2001 or 2007-9. Household income declines $522 a month on average, they found.