New Dawn for Solar
The Biden Administration has committed to reach net zero emissions by 2050. How do we get there? Hint: full-scale clean energy adoption and electrification.
Decarbonizing our nation by 2050 is going to take some heavy lifting. Fortunately, we have a roadmap to get there, which includes initiatives like:
- Driving renewable energy adoption; investing in super-efficient solar, wind, and battery storage technology; and implementing a national clean energy standard that requires utilities to derive increasing amounts of electricity from carbon-free sources.
- Electrifying transportation, requiring that all new vehicle sales are electric and implementing a “cash for clunkers” trade-in program to incentivize the transition to clean vehicles.
- Reimagining industry and manufacturing, primarily in highly resource intensive and polluting categories like cement, steel, chemical and paper.
- Transitioning homes and buildings to net zero and all-electric by implementing energy efficiency retrofit programs, ratcheted codes, mandates, and incentives.
- Transforming agricultural practices to reduce the impact of food production and preserving more land that can be used for carbon sinks.
In theory at least, if America can focus on low hanging fruit solutions, like vehicle electrification, wide-scale adoption of solar and wind energy, and the deployment of advanced technologies in buildings like heat pumps and induction cooking, we can achieve a dramatic reduction in emissions by 2030, and then move on to tackle the more challenging areas with breakthrough technologies over the following 20 years, we can feasibly reach our targets.
Saul Griffith, Co-Founder of Rewiring America estimates that as we shift to a renewable powered, electrified economy, we’re going to actually need less than half of the energy we use today. “Same size homes, same size cars, the same American Dreams, just without the pollution and with much higher efficiency,” he asserts. He also forecasts that electrification will save individual households at least $2,000 annually and the overall U.S. economy $300 billion.
The key to electrification, of course, is the full-scale adoption of renewable energy, as well as the adaptation of infrastructure, regulations, and financing to support this transition.
The good news: The clean energy future is already here. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), America’s solar energy resources—counting just utility-scale and rooftop PV—have the technical potential to produce 284 million GWh of electricity each year, equivalent to 78 times U.S. electricity use in 2020.
Source: Environment America Research & Policy Center
And America’s wind power resources, both onshore and offshore, have the technical potential to produce 40 million GWh of electricity each year, equivalent to 11 times U.S. electricity use in 2020.
According to Environment America Research & Policy Center, “Today’s solar panels and wind turbines produce more energy, in less space, for less cost, and with more flexibility than ever before.”
In fact, today’s solar panels and wind turbines are approximately 40 percent more efficient than those produced a decade ago. Take, for example, JinkoSolar’s latest product launch, the Eagle 66TR G4, a cost-effective solar panel that minimizes the white space between cells to optimize efficiency and power production (up to 390W) in a small footprint that is designed for enhanced durability and streamlined installation.
Meanwhile, the cost of wind power fell by 71 percent and utility-scale solar by 90 percent from 2009 to 2020.
Moreover, a report just released by the American Clean Power Association shows that a transition to 50 percent clean energy by 2030 would create almost 5 million job-years (a job-year is a position that employs one person for one year), and getting to 70 percent would create 6 million job-years for occupations like wind turbine technicians, solar installers, semiconductor technicians, electricians, as well as service providers in finance, law, engineering, architecture, and other related areas.
To complement advances in solar and wind technology, the battery storage market is evolving at breakneck speed. Environment America claims that “the cost per watt-hour of utility-scale battery storage has fallen dramatically, down 70 percent from 2015 to 2018.”
Battery technologies that were once considered to be mere fantasy are scaling up for widespread deployment in the next several years. The sector, spearheaded by the ingenuity of Tesla CEO Elon Musk (who asserts that he has decreased the cost to produce batteries by 56 percent) and magnified by innovative companies like QuantumScape (a little-known battery company that went public last year at an astronomical valuation of $3.3 billion), is now drawing substantial attention from stalwart companies like Shell, Panasonic, LG, Volkswagen, Toyota, and GM.
Recent advances in battery technology would make a Star Trek fan proud: anodes made of pure lithium metal, cathodes composed of inexpensive high-manganese, and lithium metals used with liquid electrolytes, all of which increase capacity and decrease cost.
Market forces are at play, and we’re on a rocket ship to a carbon-free economy. So sit back, strap in, and enjoy the ride. It’s going to be a wild one.