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Yesterday the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) released findings that show that the cost to construct new wind and solar power plants in the US continues to fall. The data was based on 2018 numbers for average construction costs for solar photovoltaic systems and onshore wind turbines. Natural gas generator costs also decreased slightly in 2018.

From 2013 to 2018, costs for solar fell 50%, costs for wind fell 27%, and costs for natural gas fell 13%. Together, these three generation technologies accounted for more than 98% of total capacity added to the electricity grid in the United States in 2018. Investment in U.S. electric-generating capacity in 2018 increased by 9.3% from 2017, driven by natural gas capacity additions.


Solar

The average construction cost for solar power plants is higher than wind and natural gas generators on a dollar-per-kilowatt basis, although the gap is narrowing as the cost of solar falls rapidly. From 2017 to 2018, the average construction cost of solar in the United States fell 21% to $1,848 per kilowatt (kW). The decrease was driven by falling costs for crystalline silicon fixed-tilt panels, which were at their lowest average construction cost of $1,767 per kW in 2018.



Crystalline silicon fixed-tilt panels—which accounted for more than one-third of the solar capacity added in the United States in 2018, at 1.7 gigawatts (GW)—had the second-highest share of solar capacity additions by technology. Solar power plants using crystalline silicon technology plus trackers had the highest share, with 2.0 GW (41% of total solar capacity additions) of added generating capacity at an average cost of $1,834 per kW.


Wind

Total U.S. wind capacity additions increased 18% from 2017 to 2018 as the average construction cost for wind turbines dropped 16% to $1,382 per kW. All wind farm size classes had lower average construction costs in 2018. The largest decreases were at wind farms with 1 megawatt (MW) to 25 MW of capacity; construction costs at these farms decreased by 22.6% to $1,790 per kW.


Natural gas

Compared with other generation technologies, natural gas technologies received the highest U.S. investment in 2018, accounting for 46% of total capacity additions for all energy sources. Growth in natural gas electric-generating capacity was led by significant additions in new capacity from combined-cycle facilities, which almost doubled the previous year’s additions for that technology. Combined-cycle technology construction costs dropped by 4% in 2018 to $858 per kW.


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Most reports had predicted that the clean energy industry, which encompasses Energy Efficiency, Renewables, Clean Vehicles, Grid & Storage and Clean Fuels, would add more 175,000 jobs in 2020, but with the pandemic, the sector is now approaching the end of the year down 477,862 jobs as a stalled recovery plagues the sector.


The sector did add 12,500 jobs in September, however an analysis prepared for E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), E4TheFuture and the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) by BW Research Partnership shows that 14% of the pre-covid workforce is still unemployed.


Despite growing two times faster than the overall economy since 2017, the clean energy sector has been particularly slow to rebound compared to the nation’s overall jobs recovery. Jobs in clean energy grew by less than half a percent for the third time in four months and just one out of every five clean energy jobs lost between March and May has come back, according to the monthly report. The slow growth is consistent nationwide; no state saw more than a 0.7% increase in employment in September, with 23 states and the District of Columbia adding fewer than 100 jobs each. 



In 2018 and 2019, clean energy created about 190,000 new jobs nationwide. Before the coronavirus pandemic, employers projected that more than 175,000 jobs would be added in 2020, according to the 2020 U.S. Energy & Employment Report (USEER) employer survey.


Before COVID-19, nearly 3.4 million Americans across all 50 states and the District of Columbia worked in clean energy occupations, which is more people than work in real estate, banking or agriculture in the U.S., and three times the number of Americans that worked in fossil fuels, according to E2’s Clean Jobs America report.


Gregory Wetstone, President and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), said that the pandemic “continues to roil the renewable energy workforce.” He added that he would like to see the U.S congress to make the renewable energy tax credits temporarily refundable “so that projects can continue to be built in spite of a COVID-constrained tax equity market.” He would also like to see “a delay in the scheduled phasedown of existing credits in recognition of the adverse nationwide impact the pandemic has had on the renewable sector this year.”


State and Sector Impacts

Energy efficiency continued to lead clean energy job growth in September, adding over 8,000 jobs. It was followed by renewable energy (2,273) and clean vehicles (965). No sector grew by more than 0.4%.


More than 40 states still suffer double-digit unemployment in clean energy, with six states seeing unemployment of 20% or more. Georgia continues to have the highest rate, with over 31% of its clean energy workforce still unemployed, followed by Kentucky at 28%. North Carolina led all states with the highest percentage of workforce growth at 0.7% while California again saw the largest total increase in jobs with 2,600 positions added (0.6%). No other state added over 1,000 clean energy jobs; only New York, Texas, and Illinois added more than 600. Ten states added fewer than 50 jobs each. 


The data analyzed for this report did not include workers who had their work hours slashed and are now significantly underemployed. 



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According to research company BloombergNEF (BNEF), green bonds have passed their biggest milestone yet, with more than $1 trillion issued since these securities first emerged in 2007.


BNEF says that green bonds are the longest standing and most heavily used instrument in the sustainable debt market, which covers a range of fixed-income products offering environmental and social benefits.


Green bonds are used to finance sustainable infrastructure, from wind farms to wastewater management. More than $200B worth of green bonds have been issued in 2020 alone, according to the research firm. This represents a 12% increase compared with the first nine months of 2019. Together, corporate, government, municipal and mortgage green bond issuance in 2020 trailed 2019’s volumes through August. This all changed in September, when green bonds saw more than $50 billion brought to market in that month alone.



“For much of this year, green bond issuance has lagged behind 2019. But the bumper month in September, with more than $50 billion issued, offers hope of a possible boom in the last quarter of the year,” said Mallory Rutigliano, a sustainable finance analyst at BNEF.

One of the biggest boosters this September came from Germany. The federal government issued a 6.5 billion-euro ($7.7 billion) sovereign bond at the start of the month, making it this year’s biggest single new green bond. Similarly, the Swedish government and Électricité de France (EDF) helped jumpstart the month, with more than $5 billion combined.


In reaching their cumulative $1 trillion issuance milestone (see chart above), green bonds have also pushed the wider sustainable debt market – which includes social bonds, sustainability-linked loans,  green loans and others – over the $2 trillion mark. Maia Godemer, a BNEF sustainable finance associate, commented: “The integration of environmental, social and governance criteria has never been more important for investors than in 2020. We’ve seen this reflected in the debt market, and it is not only likely that these varieties of financing will grow in volumes in coming years, but we will see further innovation. One driver is likely to be increasing pressure to standardize rules around green bonds, particularly in Europe.”


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