- The U.S. must install 85 GW of renewable energy each year through 2035 to achieve the emissions reductions targeted in the current Clean Electricity Performance Program legislation, according to an analysis released Tuesday by S&P Global Market Intelligence.
- In an independent but related announcement, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) announced an industry-wide goal of generating 30% of U.S. power with solar energy by 2030.
- The new goal was intended in part to bring the industry in line with federal-level goals, said Dan Whitten, vice president of public affairs for SEIA. Although it will require a greater level of ambition than seen in the past, Whitten said he believes the new goal — which also happens to align with the S&P projections — should be achievable.
Although cutting electric-sector carbon emissions 80% by 2030 — and 100% by 2035 — will require an "unprecedented" effort by industry and government leaders alike, these goals are within reach, according to Steve Piper, research director for energy at S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Hitting those targets will require an additional 630 GW of wind and 450 GW of solar by 2035, or about 85 GW of new renewable energy each year, according to Tuesday's report. The buildout would cost some $1.2 trillion, or $94 billion per year, between 2023-2035.
Ambitious as these numbers may sound, they aren't too far off where the industry is already headed based on current demand from utilities, corporate buyers and state decarbonization initiatives, Piper said. The U.S. is already on track to deploy 63 GW of new renewable energy over the next two years, which means the industry only needs to expand another 30-50% to hit the 85 GW target.
"As much new investment as it implies, and as historically unprecedented as it may seem, the costs seem to us manageable," Piper said. "It just requires sustained effort and commitment to do it."
The targets happen to track with targets announced independently by SEIA. The current trajectory has solar energy representing 14-15% of U.S. energy generation by 2030. SEIA originally aimed to boost this number to 20%, but announced on Tuesday plans to strive for 30% instead to better align with the urgency of climate change and growing federal support, Whitten said.
At 30% of U.S. generation, solar would account for 850 GW of total capacity — well above the 320 GW called for by S&P in the same time frame, and just short of the total 1,080 GW of renewables S&P believes is necessary to cut electric sector emissions by 80%.
"There's a common theme with the CEPP and the goals that both Biden and the industry are setting — and obviously that all represents efforts to reduce carbon emissions in the power sector and really move toward decarbonization," Whitten said. "In order for that to happen, you really have to have goals."
However, Whitten, like Piper, said he believes the new 30% goal is achievable assuming the industry, utilities and government can align around unifying objectives.
Federal incentives and a push to support new renewable energy technology would go a long way toward achieving the emissions objectives, Piper said. SEIA, similarly, is pushing for a ten-year extension of the investment tax credit with a direct pay option, for reduced trade restrictions and increased U.S. manufacturing, Whitten said. More investment in transmission expansion is also needed to achieve the new climate objectives, he said.
"I think we can achieve something important," he said. "I think that important policies are definitely achievable, and that will make a huge difference in the electric sector."