Biden proposes ambitious plan for solar energy

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The Biden administration on Wednesday released a plan to generate nearly half of the country’s electricity from the sun by 2050 as part of its efforts to tackle climate change.

Solar power provided less than 4 percent of the country’s electricity last year, and the administration’s target of 45 percent would represent a huge step forward and most likely lead to a fundamental overhaul of the energy industry. In a new report, the Energy Ministry said the country needs to double the amount of solar power installed each year over the next four years compared to last year. And then it will be necessary to further double the annual installations by 2030.

Adding that many solar panels, on roofs and in the ground, will not be easy. In February, a division of the Department of Energy forecast that the share of electricity produced by all renewable sources, including solar, wind and hydroelectric dams, would reach 42 percent by 2050 based on current trends and policies.

The department’s new master plan is in line with what most climatologists believe is necessary. These experts say reducing net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 is key to limiting the worst effects of global warming – and a much greater use of renewable energy sources such as solar panels and solar panels. wind turbines will be needed to achieve this goal.

But administration officials have provided only a general overview of how they hope to get there. Many details will ultimately be decided by lawmakers in Congress, who are working on a bipartisan infrastructure bill and a much broader Democratic measure that could authorize $ 3.5 trillion in federal spending.

One thing for the administration is that the cost of solar panels has dropped dramatically over the past decade, making them the cheapest source of energy in many parts of the country. The use of solar and wind power has also grown much faster in recent years than predicted by most government and independent analysts.

“One of the things we hope people see and take away from this report is that it is affordable to decarbonize the grid,” said Becca Jones-Albertus, director of the Solar Energy Technology Office in the Department of Energy. ‘Energy. “The network will remain reliable. We just need to build.

The administration argues that the United States must act quickly because doing nothing to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels also comes at significant costs, especially extreme weather conditions linked to climate change. During a visit Tuesday to inspect damage from the heavy rains caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida in New Jersey and New York City, President Biden said, “The nation and the world are in peril.”

Some recent natural disasters have been compounded by weaknesses in the energy system. Ida, for example, dealt a heavy blow to the power grid in Louisiana, where hundreds of thousands of people have been without power for days. Last winter, a storm also left much of Texas without power for days. And in California, utility equipment has sparked several large wildfires, killing dozens and destroying thousands of homes and businesses.

Despite this, many analysts and even some in the solar industry are skeptical about the administration’s ability to meet its green goals. In addition to the 45% solar power target, Biden said he wants to reduce net global warming emissions from the power sector to zero by 2035. He also wants to add hundreds of seven offshore wind turbines currently in offshore waters. the coasts of the country and up to half of all new cars sold will be electric by 2030.

Although renewables have developed rapidly, they contribute about 20 percent of the country’s electricity. Natural gas and coal contribute about 60 percent.

“This kind of rapid acceleration in deployment will only happen with smart policy decisions,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association. “This is the part where it’s important to have a goal, but the problem is having clear steps to get there. “

Challenges such as trade disputes could also complicate Mr Biden’s push for more solar power. China dominates the global solar panel supply chain, and the administration recently began blocking imports related to China’s Xinjiang region over concerns over the use of forced labor. While many solar companies say they are working to move away from materials made in Xinjiang, energy experts say the import ban could slow construction of solar projects across the country in the near term.

Mr Biden wants to use the tax credits to encourage the use of solar power systems and batteries in homes, businesses and utilities. The administration also wants local governments to speed up permitting and construction of new solar projects – in some places, installing panels on a single-family home can take months, for example. And officials want to offer various incentives to utility companies to encourage the use of solar energy.

Jennifer M. Granholm, Mr Biden’s energy secretary, said part of the administration’s strategy would focus on its clean electricity payment program, which would reward utilities for adding more renewable energy to the power grid, including rooftop solar power. Many utility companies have fought against rooftop solar panels because they see it as a threat to their business and prefer to build large solar farms that they own and control.

“Both have to happen, and public services will have an incentive to remove the barriers,” Ms. Granholm said. “We have to do a series of things.

In addition to its efforts, the administration highlighted the changes made by state and local authorities. California regulators, for example, are changing the state building code to require solar power and batteries in new buildings.

Another great area of ​​interest for administration is greater use of batteries to store energy generated by solar panels and wind turbines for use at night or when the wind is not blowing. The cost of batteries has fallen but remains too high for a rapid transition to renewables and electric cars, according to many analysts.

For some solar industry officials, the new solar target will help focus minds on the future.

“In essence, the DOE is saying America needs a ton more solar power, not less, and we need it today, not tomorrow,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar and Storage Association, which represents the state’s solar developers with by far the most solar installations. “This simple call to action should guide every policy making decision, from city councils to legislatures and regulators across the country.”

Brad plumer contributed reports.


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