The Biden administration on Wednesday announced a plan to generate nearly half of the nation’s electricity from the sun by 2050 as part of efforts to combat climate change.
Solar powered less than 4% of the country’s electricity last year, and the administration’s 45% target represents a huge leap forward and will most likely carry out a fundamental reshaping of the industry. energy. In a new report, the Department of Energy says the country needs to double the amount of solar installed annually over the next four years from last year. And then it will need to double its annual installations again by 2030.
Adding more solar panels, on rooftops and on open ground, won’t be easy. In February, a division of the Department of Energy predicted that the share of electricity produced by all renewable sources, including solar, wind and hydroelectric dams, would reach 42 percent by 2050. based on current trends and policies.
The department’s new blueprint is in line with what most climate scientists say is needed. Those experts say reducing net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 is essential to limit the worst effects of global warming – and requires more use of energy sources. renewables such as solar panels and wind turbines to achieve that goal.
But administration officials provided only a broad outline of how they hope to get there. Many of the final details will be decided by lawmakers in Congress, which is working on a bipartisan infrastructure bill and a much larger Democratic measure that could allow federal spending. 3.5 trillion dollars.
One thing for the administration is that the cost of solar panels has dropped dramatically over the past decade, making them the cheapest source of energy in many parts of the country. The use of solar and wind power has also grown much faster in recent years than most government and independent analysts predicted.
Becca Jones-Albertus, Director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Solar Technology, said: “One of the things we hope people see and learn from this report is decarbonisation of the grid. have affordable prices. “The grid will remain reliable. We just need to build.”
The administration is making the point that the US needs to act quickly because not doing anything to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels also comes at a significant cost, especially due to the weather. extremes related to climate change. During a visit on Tuesday to examine the damage from intense rainfall caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida in New Jersey and New York, President Biden said, “The nation and the world are in danger.”
Several recent natural disasters have been compounded by weaknesses in the energy system. For example, Ida has dealt a blow to the power grid in Louisiana, where hundreds of thousands of people have been without power for days. Last winter, a hurricane left much of Texas without power for several days. And in California, utility equipment has caused a number of major wildfires, killing scores of people and destroying thousands of homes and businesses.
Even so, many analysts and even some in the solar industry remain skeptical that the administration can achieve its green goals. In addition to the 45% solar target, Mr. Biden said he wants to bring net planet-warming emissions from the power sector to zero by 2035. He also wants to add hundreds of offshore wind turbines to seven existing wind turbines. are in the open sea. coast of the country and up to half of new cars sold will be electric by 2030.
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While renewable energy has grown rapidly, it contributes about 20% of the country’s electricity. Natural gas and coal contribute about 60%.
“Such rapid deployment will only happen through smart policy decisions,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president of the Solar Industries Association. “That’s the part where it’s important to have goals, but the point is to have clear steps on how to achieve them.”
Challenges like the trade dispute could also complicate Mr. Biden’s push to develop more solar power. China dominates the global supply chain for solar panels, and authorities recently began blocking imports linked to China’s Xinjiang region due to concerns about the use of forced labor. While many solar companies say they are trying to shift their focus away from materials produced in Xinjiang, energy experts say the import ban could slow construction of solar projects. solar energy across the country in the short term.
Mr. Biden wants to use the tax credits to encourage the use of solar and battery systems in homes, businesses and utilities. The government also wants it to be quicker for local governments to get permits and build new solar projects – for example, in some places it can take months to install panels for a single-family home. for a family. And officials want to offer various incentives to utility companies to encourage the use of solar energy.
Jennifer M. Granholm, Mr. Biden’s energy secretary, said part of the administration’s strategy will focus on the Clean Electricity Billing Program, which will reward add-ons with lots of renewable energy to the grid, including rooftop solar. Many utility companies have been fighting against rooftop solar panels because they perceive a threat to their business and want to build large solar farms that are owned and operated by them. control.
“Both has to happen, and utilities will be incentivized to remove barriers,” Ms. Granholm said. “We have to do a bunch of things.”
In addition to its efforts, the administration pointed to changes being made by state and local officials. For example, regulators in California are changing state building codes to require solar and battery power in new buildings.
Another area of focus for the administration is using more batteries to store energy generated by solar panels and wind turbines for use at night or when the wind is not blowing. The cost of batteries has fallen but is still too high for the rapid shift to renewable energy and electric cars, according to many analysts.
For some solar industry officials, the new solar target will help focus people’s minds on the future.
“In essence, the DOE is saying that America needs more tons of solar energy, not less, and we need it,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar and Storage Association. We need it today, not tomorrow” by far the largest number of solar installations. “That simple call to action will guide every policy-making decision from city councils to legislatures and regulators across the country.”
Brad Plumer contribution report.