The Biden administration on Wednesday released an outline mapping out how the U.S. could produce half of its electricity using solar power by 2050 — a sizeable undertaking given that it accounted for just 4 percent of the country’s electricity last year.
The blueprint showed the U.S. would have to double the amount of solar energy installed each year over the next four years and then double it again by 2030.
While the report says the increase is in line with what has been recommended by climate scientists to prevent the worst effects of global warming, it would upend current technology and the energy industry.
Meeting that goal would require trillions of dollars in investments by homeowners, businesses and the government. As the New York Times notes, the electric grid, which was designed for coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants, would need to be almost entirely redone with the addition of batteries, transmission lines and other technologies with the ability to collect electricity while the sun is shining and send it cross country.
Natural gas and coal currently account for roughly 60 percent of the country’s energy. A report by the Energy Department earlier this year predicted that renewable energy would grow from contributing 20 percent of the country’s electricity now to 42 percent by 2050 based on current trends and policies.
However, building and installing enough solar panels to meet the targets will increase demand for aluminum, silicon, steel and glass, placing a strain upon manufacturers and the energy industry. Trade disputes threaten to complicate a large-scale increase in solar power, as China largely controls the supply chain for solar panels. The Biden administration recently began banning imports connected with the Xinjiang region of China over concerns about human rights abuses against the Uyghur minority.
Additionally, the high cost of batteries used to store energy generated by solar panels and wind turbines could make it difficult to scale up renewable energy.
Still, Becca Jones-Albertus, director of the Solar Energy Technology Office in the Energy Department, told the outlet that officials are hoping people will see the report and recognize that it is “affordable to decarbonize the grid.”
“The grid will remain reliable. We just need to build,” she said.
The Energy Department said its analysis found that solar panels had dropped in price such that they could produce 40 percent of the country’s electricity by 2035, which would be enough to power all American homes, and 45 percent by 2050.
President Biden hopes to use tax credits to increase the usage of solar power systems and batteries at homes, businesses and utilities.
Energy secretary Jennifer Granholm said the administration hopes to institute a Clean Electricity Payment Program to reward utilities for adding renewable energy to the electric grid, including rooftop solar panels, which have received pushback from utility companies that would prefer to build large solar farms that they own and control.
The Obama administration infamously provided $500 million in federally guaranteed loans to the California-based solar panel maker Solyndra only for the company to go bust in 2011.