The Biden Administration has passed an ambitious energy policy in the U.S. to slash carbon emissions and mitigate the harmful effects of climate change. (1) However, transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy is a massive undertaking that requires billions of dollars in investments and significant upgrades to existing infrastructure. Is the U.S. ready?
Biden’s clean energy goal
In 2020, the Biden Administration announced its goal for the U.S. power sector to achieve 100% clean energy by 2035. This goal of completely pollution-free electricity is ambitious, and incorporating renewable energy on a wide scale is a major component of achieving it.
The U.S. electric grid cannot currently manage the demand for solar power capacity, and there is not yet enough renewable energy capacity installed to power the entire country. As of 2022, 60% of energy generated in the U.S. was still from fossil fuels. (2) To turn this around, the government will need to invest billions of dollars in the energy sector to fund clean energy technologies. (3)
The problem with the U.S. electric grid
Renewables, the “cheapest form of power today,” offer the most promising route to achieving 100% clean energy in the U.S. (4) However, the U.S. electric grid will require significant updates to support more solar and wind energy capacity.
Transitioning the current U.S. power grid to completely renewable energy is not as easy as flipping a switch. There is no single “grid” in the U.S. Rather, power is supplied through a fragmented, localized network of power grids. (5)
Although this power grid system supplies coal and gas-powered energy to homes relatively well, it is a major obstacle to bolstering solar and wind energy capacity. That’s because power from fossil fuels is typically generated locally and does not have to travel as far to reach customers. On the other hand, solar and wind farms are primarily in rural areas, so power would have to travel longer distances to reach customers.
The U.S. needs “thousands of miles of new high-voltage transmission lines” to effectively transport renewable energy generated in rural areas across the country, according to reporting by the New York Times. (5) This would require either significant collaboration between local utility companies, or for the federal government to take ownership of the project.
Land use disputes have also stalled some efforts to implement renewable energy across the U.S.
Although wind and solar electricity generation have virtually no carbon emissions, according to the Brookings Institution they “require at least 10 times as much land per unit of power produced than coal- or natural gas-fired power plants, including land disturbed to produce and transport the fossil fuels.” (6)
This has raised some concerns for the rural communities where utilities are building massive solar and wind farms. Some residents don’t like the appearance of wind turbines and solar farms near their homes. (7) Others are concerned the environmental impact of clearing and using land for renewable energy equipment outweighs the environmental benefits. (8)
What needs to change?
Transitioning to 100% clean energy in the U.S. requires a multi-faceted approach. In addition to updating the energy grid for renewable energy, the U.S. government is already investing in carbon capture and removal technologies, incentivizing drivers to buy electric vehicles (EVs) and introducing new vehicle emission standards, among other advancements. (9)
There is still a lot that needs to change to reach the goal of 100% clean energy by 2035. This includes:
- Building out a national power grid network capable of transmitting energy across regions,
- Installing utility-scale energy storage so customers can utilize solar and wind energy when it’s not sunny or windy, and
- Integrating new artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to manage energy supply and optimize energy use. (10)
Ultimately, a combination of these solutions on a more widespread scale is necessary to achieve net-zero emissions.
Making a safe transition to renewable energy
To achieve the Biden Administration’s goal of 100% clean energy by 2035, the U.S. must significantly increase its decarbonization efforts through updating the energy system and investing in renewables.
To distribute renewable power effectively, developers must also ensure renewable energy equipment can meet energy demand safely. For example, renewable energy storage is critical to providing consistent power to customers, but some battery chemistries are a fire risk. In July 2023, a solar battery farm in northern New York caught fire, with the smoke posing a significant health risk to residents. (11)
Thankfully, new solar and solar battery technologies have made the risk of fire from residential solar PV systems extremely low. Additionally, the Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) has funded the Solar Training and Education for Professionals (STEP) program to train over 10,000 firefighters on managing solar equipment fires. (12)
Frequently asked questions
Utilizing renewable energy on a large scale can help mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing energy security and improving public health. Renewable energy sources like solar, wind, hydropower and offshore wind can also be more cost-effective than traditional energy sources. (13)
On a residential level, installing solar panels can help U.S. homeowners lower their carbon footprint and offset electricity bills.
The U.S. has set ambitious climate goals, hoping to have a 100% carbon-free energy sector by 2035. The country is updating the power grid, connecting significant amounts of renewable energy and offering incentives and subsidies to customers who purchase EVs and renewable energy systems. For example, under the Inflation Reduction Act passed in August 2022, homeowners who install an eligible solar system can receive a tax credit worth 30% of their total project cost*.