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Biden administration wants solar power to increase tenfold in 15 years

Biden views storm damage, talks climate
Biden says climate change poses "existential threat" as he tours storm damage 03:45

The Energy Department says solar energy can produce up to 40% of the nation's electricity within 15 years — a 10-fold increase of current solar output that would require massive changes in U.S. policy and billions of dollars in federal investment.

In a report released Wednesday, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy found the U.S. needs to double the solar capacity it adds every year in the early 2020s, and quadruple it in the late 2020, as it moves to address the existential threat posed by climate change.

Reaching that level of decarbonization would be "a monumental achievement" requiring new policies and billions in federal funds. It would also save trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives by slowing climate change and reducing the detrimental health effects of air pollution, the report found.

"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 U.S. by 2035 and employ as many as 1.5 million people in the process," Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement about the study. She called for "a massive and equitable deployment of renewable energy and strong decarbonization polices," outlined in President Joe Biden's infrastructure legislation.

School's solar panel savings give every teacher up to $15,000 raises 04:42

Exponential growth

Solar power has grown exponentially in just a handful of years, now providing about 3% of the U.S.' electricity, up from less than 1% in 2014. In many parts of the nation, it's now than to keep operating an existing fossil-fuel plant. Even without new laws or more money from the government, the Energy Department expects solar power to grow by a factor of seven by midcentury.

But increasing solar installations to meet the government's targets would be "an incredible challenge," according to Wood Mackenzie, a natural resources consultancy.

To achieve the increase, the U.S. must install an average of 30 GW of solar capacity per year between now and 2025 — double its current rate — and 60 GW per year from 2025 to 2030. One gigawatt is enough energy to power about 750,000 homes.

The solar industry is already running up against bottlenecks thanks to snarled supply chains, tariffs on solar-panel imports and rising prices for raw materials, including steel and aluminum, which are pushing up prices for solar installations in homes
and offices and service centers. Wood Mackenzie projects that prices for solar projects will rise this year — their first cost increase in over a decade.

"Everybody's crisis"

The report comes as President Biden declared that climate change has become "everybody's crisis" as he visited neighborhoods in New Jersey flooded by the remnants of Hurricane Ida. Biden warned Tuesday that it's time for America to get serious about the "code red" danger posed by climate change or face increasing loss of life and property.

"We can't turn it back very much, but we can prevent it from getting worse," Biden said before touring a New Jersey neighborhood ravaged by severe flooding caused by Ida. "We don't have any more time."

Climate change has already made hurricanes more intense and more damaging, and the effects of heavy storms are only expected to get worse as the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increases.

Mr. Biden is pushing Congress to approve his plan to spend $1 trillion to fortify infrastructure nationwide, including electrical grids and water and sewer systems, to better defend against extreme weather. The legislation has cleared the Senate and awaits a House vote.

The DOE's "Solar Futures Study" shows that, by 2035, the United States would need provide 1,000 GW of power to a renewable-dominant grid. By 2050, solar energy could provide 1,600 GW on a zero-carbon grid — producing more electricity than consumed in all residential and commercial buildings in the country today, the report said.

Decarbonizing the entire energy system could result in as much as 3,000 GW of solar by 2050, as other sectors including transportation, buildings and manufacturing move toward electrification, according to the report.

Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, told the Associated Press that the report "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.

With reporting by the Associated Press.

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