The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Biden officials trumpet how solar can provide nearly half of the nation’s electricity by 2050

New Energy Department study reflects the president’s vision to reshape the U.S. energy infrastructure and cut greenhouse gases.

Solar panels in the Desert Stateline project near Nipton, Calif., on Aug. 16, 2021. (Bridget Bennet/Reuters)
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The Biden administration announced a blueprint Wednesday outlining how solar energy could produce nearly half of the nation’s electricity by mid-century, part of its ambitious bid to address climate change.

The new Energy Department analysis shows how the United States can scale up production of solar panels, which now provide 3 percent of the nation’s electricity, to 45 percent over the next three decades. It would entail the United States doubling its installed solar power every year for the next four years, compared with 2020, and then doubling it again by 2030.

The move, which would transform the nation’s energy industry and infrastructure, shows how President Biden is determined to reshape the economy and cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in the face of staunch political opposition.

While the administration has not set a specific solar energy target, the president has called for 100 percent of the nation’s electricity to come from clean energy by 2035.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement that the nation could achieve such a rapid shift, noting that the study projects that solar energy could provide 40 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2035 and employ as many as 1.5 million people without boosting electricity prices.

That analysis, however, assumes Congress would fund several of the clean energy investments and policies that Biden has proposed but which have yet to be enacted.

“Achieving this bright future requires a massive and equitable deployment of renewable energy and strong decarbonization polices — exactly what is laid out in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda,” Granholm said in a statement.

Tracking Biden's environmental policies

Biden emphasized the need to achieve his goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 after touring damage wrought by Hurricane Ida in New York and New Jersey on Tuesday.

“We’re going to be able to do these things, but we’ve got to move,” he said. “We’ve got to move.”

“And so, folks, this summer alone, communities with over 100 million Americans … have been struck by extreme weather,” he added. “One in every three Americans has been victimized by severe weather — the hurricanes along the Gulf, the East Coast, up through this community. And I saw the human and physical costs firsthand, as I said, in Louisiana.”

However, in recent weeks some environmental groups have begun to question Biden’s commitment to curbing fossil fuels linked to climate change, especially since the Interior Department announced it would hold an oil and gas sale on 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico this fall to comply with a court order by a Louisiana judge.

The preliminary injunction, in June, blocked the administration’s policy of pausing the sale of new oil and gas leases on federal land while reviewing how to reform the program. Interior has also scheduled several onshore oil and gas auctions for next February.

“An announcement on increasing renewable energy potential, no matter how impressive, must be followed by an announcement that details how this administration plans to manage public lands for climate and not for oil and gas,” said Chase Huntley, vice president for strategy and results at the Wilderness Society, an advocacy group. “Especially as the administration moves to restart onshore and offshore leasing in direct conflict with a climate-focused agenda.”

More on climate change

Understanding our climate: Global warming is a real phenomenon, and weather disasters are undeniably linked to it. As temperatures rise, heat waves are more often sweeping the globe — and parts of the world are becoming too hot to survive.

What can be done? The Post is tracking a variety of climate solutions, as well as the Biden administration’s actions on environmental issues. It can feel overwhelming facing the impacts of climate change, but there are ways to cope with climate anxiety.

Inventive solutions: Some people have built off-the-grid homes from trash to stand up to a changing climate. As seas rise, others are exploring how to harness marine energy.

What about your role in climate change? Our climate coach Michael J. Coren is answering questions about environmental choices in our everyday lives. Submit yours here. You can also sign up for our Climate Coach newsletter.