Solar can power more than 100 times America’s current electricity needs, new report finds

Reading time: 5 minutes
30 March 2016

NEW YORK: America can address its “largest environmental challenges by shifting to 100% renewable energy”, according to a new report by Environment America and Frontier Group.

'We Have the Power: 100% Renewable Energy for a Clean, Thriving America' shows that a complete transition to clean energy is both possible and essential in order to deliver on the Paris Agreement and limit a global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The report provides a scan of recent analyses, highlighting NREL data showing that America has the technical potential to meet its current electricity needs more than 100 times over with solar energy, and more than 10 times over with wind.

Image: Comparison of renewable energy technical potential and current consumption, source NREL. From the report 'We Have the Power: 100% Renewable Energy for a Clean, Thriving America', courtesy of Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier

And there are multiple advantages to making the transition, the report shows. Not only are renewable energy methods safer than fossil fuels by eliminating the need for fracking and drilling; they are also good for the economy as they will create jobs and safeguard against the volatility of fossil fuel prices.

Affordable energy

The switch will also be affordable. In many parts of the US wind power is now the cheapest source of electricity, after a 58% drop in prices between 2009 and 2014. Over the same time period the cost of solar PV fell by 78%; renewables are quickly becoming competitively priced.

New energy efficiency technologies are also getting cheaper, with the cost of LED lighting falling by a staggering 90% between 2008 and 2014. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy estimates the US can reduce overall energy use by 40-60% below current levels by mid-century, even as the economy continues to grow.

Image: Recent cost declines in clean energy technologies, source: Lazard, US Department of Energy. From the report 'We Have the Power: 100% Renewable Energy for a Clean, Thriving America', courtesy of Environment America Research & Policy Center and Front

The report looks at seven detailed studies by academics, government agencies and nonprofit organisations that all show a transition to a clean energy system is achievable. Growth in renewables in the past 15 years – particularly solar – has been faster than the most optimistic forecasts made by Greenpeace, the IEA and the solar energy industry.

Low carbon leadership

The report also shines the spotlight onto government leaders and calls for action in order to bring about the energy transition. It highlights key principles to be considered for US energy policy such as prioritizing energy efficiency, promoting the swift deployment of renewables, ceasing construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure and modernizing the electricity grid to provide reliable access to renewable energy.

Amy Davidsen, Executive Director, North America at The Climate Group said: “There’s huge potential for renewables in the US and new technologies have already achieved a great deal in bringing prices down – making them all the more attractive.

“The US corporates, cities, and states and regional governments that we work closely with are already leading the way, demonstrating that the switch to renewables creates opportunity for economic growth as well as cutting emissions and costs.”

Bold corporate action

All around the world, leading companies are showing a real appetite for renewable energy. To help them achieve this bold target, The Climate Group - in partnership with CDP - launched the RE100 campaign to engage, support and showcase influential companies committed to using 100% renewable power.

RE100 companies Nike, Walmart, Starbucks and Johnson & Johnson are named in the report as leading US businesses that have pledged to transition to 100% renewable electricity. The RE100 campaign has a total of 18 US-based businesses on board dedicated to increasing corporate demand for renewable power – and that number is growing all the time.

Through a series of knowledge sharing webinars targeting corporates, RE100’s new partnership with the Business Renewables Center – founded by The Rocky Mountain Institute – aims to increase US demand for renewables (buyers), identify local renewables opportunities (sellers), and provide the means to join the two (tools and knowledge).

US companies joining RE100 are also encouraged to sign up to initiatives such as the Corporate Renewable Energy Buyer’s Principles, which, led by WWF and the World Resources Institute (WRI), is engaging with utility companies in the US to increase local availability of renewable power for big energy users.

Priya Barua, Associate, Energy Program at WRI was recently a guest speaker on a recent RE100 webinar, on which she spoke about emerging green tariffs in US regulated electricity markets – the subject of a recent WRI and WWF report. Joe Dooley, State Policy Manager at Google also provided the company’s experience of working with Duke Energy in North Carolina to develop a green tariff for large energy buyers.

by Jessy Field

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