Solar energy has the potential to supply up to 40% of the nation’s electricity within 15 years—a 10-fold increase over current solar output, but one that would require massive changes in US policy and billions of dollars in federal investment to modernize the nation's electric grid, a new federal report says. The report by the Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy says the United States would need to quadruple its annual solar capacity— and continue to increase it year by year—as it shifts to a renewable-dominant grid in order to address the existential threat posed by climate change. From the AP:
- "Designed to inspire solar innovation." The report released Wednesday is not intended as a policy statement or administration goal, officials said. Instead, it is "designed to guide and inspire the next decade of solar innovation by helping us answer questions like: How fast does solar need to increase capacity and to what level?'' said Becca Jones-Albertus, director of the Energy Department's solar energy technologies office.
- Our fastest-growing source of clean energy. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement that the study “illuminates the fact that solar, our cheapest and fastest-growing source of clean energy, could produce enough electricity to power all of the homes in the US by 2035 and employ as many as 1.5 million people in the process.”
- Yearly additions would have to quadruple. The "Solar Futures Study," prepared by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, shows that, by 2035, the country would need to quadruple its yearly solar capacity additions and provide 1,000 gigawatts of power to a renewable-dominant grid. By 2050, solar energy could provide 1,600 gigawatts on a zero-carbon grid—producing more electricity than consumed in all residential and commercial buildings in the country today, the report said.
- Plan relies on action from Congress. The report assumes that clean-energy policies currently being debated in Congress will drive a 95% reduction from 2005 levels in the grid’s carbon dioxide emissions by 2035, and a 100% reduction by 2050. But even without aggressive action from Congress—an outcome that is far from certain in an evenly-divided House and Senate—installed solar capacity could still see a seven-fold increase by 2050, relative to 2005, through "market forces and technology advances," the report said.
- Companies say goals are "definitely achievable." Abigail Ross Hopper, the group's president and CEO, said the DOE study “makes it clear that we will not achieve the levels of decarbonization that we need without significant policy advances.'' The solar group sent a letter to Congress Wednesday from nearly 750 companies spelling out recommended policy changes. "We believe with those policies and a determined private sector, the Biden administration’s goals are definitely achievable,'' Hopper said.
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