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Just how fast will clean energy grow in the U.S.?

Posted on 9 August 2023 by dana1981

This is a re-post from Yale Climate Connections

To slash U.S. emissions of climate-warming carbon pollution, many experts have settled on a plan that can be largely described in two steps: Clean up the power grid and electrify everything.

If electric vehiclesheat pumpsinduction stoves, and some industrial processes can be powered by clean electricity and replace fossil-fueled alternatives, that transition will do most of the work toward decarbonizing the economy and helping the U.S. meet its commitments under the Paris climate agreement.

Carbon pollution from the U.S. power sector had already been declining, albeit too slowly to meet the country’s Paris commitments. Then in 2022, President Biden signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes over a decade’s-worth of tax credits for clean electricity sources. That financial certainty along with the rapidly falling costs of solar and wind power and energy storage are set to unleash an explosion of clean-energy deployment in the coming years.

A plethora of energy modelers and renewables and financial experts have published reports and studies projecting just how quickly this transition will occur. The consensus is that the amount of solar and wind generation in the U.S. will nearly double between now and 2025 — and then nearly double again by 2030, supplying about half the country’s power by the turn of the decade.

But a variety of complicating factors create uncertainty around that precise number, and it’s still not enough to meet the U.S. Paris commitment to reduce its carbon pollution to net zero by 2050.

Breaking clean energy records every year from now on

2021 was a record year for clean energy installations in the U.S., with about 13 gigawatts of wind and nearly 24 gigawatts of solar power capacity installed. Those numbers dipped a bit in 2022 due largely to supply chain issues but have begun to rebound in 2023. Experts expect their growth to continue, with supply chain issues largely resolved and the Inflation Reduction Act’s clean energy tax credits now available.

A recent study published in the prestigious journal Science looked at the clean energy growth forecasts from nine energy systems models, including those from groups at PrincetonEnergy InnovationRhodium, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. To gauge the Inflation Reduction Act’s impact, the models were run with scenarios in which the bill did not become law, then compared to the model forecasts of a post-Inflation-Reduction-Act world.

The U.S. currently generates about 40% of its electricity from low-carbon sources, including 18% from nuclear power, 10% from wind, 6% from hydropower, and 5% from solar. The models projected that even in the absence of the Inflation Reduction Act, those numbers would grow to about 50% clean electricity in 2025, 55% in 2030, and almost 60% in 2035 simply due to the growth of cheap solar and wind.

But when the Inflation Reduction Act’s clean energy tax credits are factored in, solar and wind energy growth are supercharged. In this new reality, the models forecast that the U.S. low-carbon electricity numbers will grow to 54% in 2030, 73% in 2030, and over 80% in 2035. That includes a near-doubling of solar and wind generation from 15% of U.S. electricity to about 28% in 2025, 50% in 2030, and 60% in 2035.

Most of that growth will likely come from new utility-scale solar farms, thanks to their plummeting costs. Forecasts from the Energy Information AdministrationMorgan Stanley, and a joint analysis by Wood Mackenzie and the Solar Energy Industries Association all project that the U.S. will install about 63 gigawatts of new solar capacity by the end of 2024. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission similarly identified 78 gigawatts of solar and 20 gigawatts of wind power with a high probability of being built by mid-2026, with the potential for much more. The commission projects that nearly 90% of new energy capacity added during the next three years will be low-carbon and that more fossil fuels may be retired than are added to the grid during that time.

In short, the record 24 gigawatts of solar capacity added in 2021 will likely be broken in 2023 — and in every subsequent year for the foreseeable future.

chart showing past and projected growth in U.S. photovoltaic installations through 2028, with most growth in the utility sectorRecent and projected future annual solar photovoltaic power generation capacity installed in the United States. Source: Wood Mckenzie/SEIA US Solar Market Insight® for the second quarter of 2023

Factors that could slow the clean energy transition

But some roadblocks remain that create uncertainty about just how fast the U.S. will build all of this new clean power. Inadequate electrical transmission infrastructure is chief among them and the subject of ongoing permitting reform negotiations in Congress.

As of this writing, there’s more power stuck in the “interconnection queue” than exists on the entire power grid. These are projects awaiting an assessment regarding whether the grid can handle their added power, or whether the developers would need to pay to build more grid capacity. Under today’s conditions, it takes a decade on average to build a new electrical transmission line in the U.S.

An analysis by energy modelers at Princeton found that if the U.S. continues to build out transmission infrastructure at the recent slow rate of 1% to 1.5% expansion per year, 50% to 80% of the Inflation Reduction Act’s potential climate pollution cuts could be squandered because of the inability to connect new clean energy to the grid. Doubling that rate from 1% to 2% per year would more than double the solar and wind energy that could be built. Congress and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission are working on measures to speed up that transmission infrastructure build-out, but it remains to be seen how successful these efforts will be.

chart showing stronger growth in wind and solar capacity between now and 2030 if transmission infrastructure is expanded The amount of solar and wind energy that could be added to the U.S. power grid annually if transmission infrastructure is expanded at a rate of 1% per year (purple), 1.5% per year (orange), or 2% per year (blue). Created by Dana Nuccitelli using data from Princeton REPEAT.

Changes in net-metering policy in California that will reduce the payback by 75% for sending extra solar energy back to the grid are also expected to slow the deployment of residential installations in the state, which ranks No. 1 for installed rooftop solar. And the Biden administration’s temporary suspension of tariffs on solar panels imported from China and Southeast Asia is set to expire in June 2024, which could result in higher solar panel prices and thus could somewhat hinder their deployment.

A bright future for clean energy

Although these factors create some uncertainty around exactly how fast U.S. solar and wind energy will grow, there is nevertheless a consensus among experts that their deployment will proceed at a record-breaking pace. Solar and wind power are forecast to generate between about 35% and 55% of domestic electricity by 2030 and 45-65% by 2035. Other low-carbon sources like nuclear power and hydroelectricity will likely account for a further 25% of power generation.

But without additional policy measures, energy models project that this progress will only reduce U.S. climate pollution by 33% to 40% below 2005 levels by 2030, reaching 43% to 48% emissions cuts by 2035. That’s about 10 percentage points closer to meeting the U.S.’s Paris commitment to curb climate pollution 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 than the country’s pre-Inflation Reduction Act path, but additional action will be needed to meet that target.

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Comments 1 to 18:

  1.  If only we could expand wind and solar as fast as China has.
    In 2020 they installed 72 GW of wind and 48 GW of PV solar.
    In 2022, they installed another 37.6 GW of wind and 87.4 GW of solar.
    In just the first two months of 2023 they installed over 20 GW of solar.
    But then, I think they have invested a lot in HVDC long distance transmission lines.

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  2. This article describes the massive increases in new electric generation from solar installations by noting the huge increases in solar "capacity" including the following quotes:

    "....project that the U.S. will install about 63 gigawatts of new solar capacity by the end of 2024"

    " the record 24 gigawatts of solar capacity added in 2021 will likely be broken in 2023 "

    Gross increases in solar capacity should be read in full context. If one is going to discuss increases in electric generation from solar, one should be using realistic numbers. As noted by Jacobson in his study of 100% renewables, the US actual solar generation is approx 20.8% of capacity . See his table S11 in his recent 2022 study. Canada actual generation from solar is slightly less at 18% of capacity and Europe is only 17.6% of capacity. Also note that the winter months, the northern US and Canada the electric generation from solar is in the range of 10% or less of capacity.

    Below is a link to the German electric generation by source. Note that during the summer months, solar generates 12k GW's -15k GW's daily, while in the winter months, the electricity generated from solar ranges from 1k GW/s -4k Gw's and often falls below 1k GW's.




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    Moderator Response:

    [RH] Shortened link

  3. All sounds great until a realistic analysis of the energy creation in countries that have invested billions into clean energy and it's not all it's cracked up to be.  Here in the UK we have over 12000 wind generators, mostly off shore.  The amount of energy they create looks on paper to be a reasonable return on the investment until you start looking at the numbers.  The issue is that generating the electricity carries on through the night and these figures are used by the govt to mislead the tax payer as the energy from the night isnt required, the vast majority of the population are asleep in bed.  It would be great if the energy could be stored but the cost of batteries is at the moment twice the gdp of the uk!  In 2020 wind generation of uk output was 25%, remember though that includes night time generation that went to waste.  In 2021 generation was 7% as the wind didn't do its job.  So to compensate for years the wind doesn't blow the Uk would have to invest in at least 100k wind generators and batteries for storage, that would cost many times more than gdp.....completely unaffordable. Then we have the problem that each wind generator Requires 80 imperial gallons of oil every year for lubrication, if the whole world invests in wind farms oil will still be needed.  The only realistic solution is nuclear.

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  4. Davz @3 , you are quite right that it is only the actual production of electricity that should be stated.  Like you, I am irritated by public announcements of XYZ generation capacity newly installed . . . when it would be more honest to quote the actual effective generation (which is in the 15-30% range, for various wind & solar).

    Since you have used UK figures (rather than the OP's North American bias)  ~ there we see wind turbines supplying around 20-25% of electricity needs.  Planned turbine growth will exceed expected growth of UK electricity needs.

    The UK usage of lubricating oil is an interesting topic.  Davz, on your figures the oil usage by wind turbines is close to 10% of the lubricating oil used by the UK's 40 million vehicles.  More turbines = more oil, and yet more more electric vehicles = less lubricating oil.  A nett advantage for EV's  (and that also ignores the fuel oil used by ICE vehicles).

    Davz, please check the figures for lubricating oil used by nuclear plants ~ on the little that I have seen, it is reported that "nuclear" uses a much higher oil amount per MegaWatthour than does coal / gas / wind turbine.  And then there is the problem of nuclear's huge costs & very slow build times (but I presume you know that).

    Costs of batteries is red-herring.  When wind turbines are over-producing electricity, the turbines are feathered or stopped down.  Future battery costs . . . who knows? . . . but the technology is leading to much lower prices.   Eventually, a small household battery may get to the price of a household refrigerator.

     #  By the way Davz, please return to your comment on another thread, where you suggested that climate warming had no way of contributing to increased wilfires.  It would be ethical of you to discuss your point further ~ or acknowledge that you were wrong.

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  5. Correction ~ my apologies Davz.  If the UK's 40 million vehicles use 2 gallons of lubricating oil per year each . . . then the wind turbines are using only about 1% of that (not the 10% figure I mentioned above).

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  6. Davz - do you have a good link to the electric generation by source data for the UK similar to the eia for the USA or the germany version


    I alway like to be able to cross check against the source data.  The 25% generation of capacity in the UK from solar seems slightly high given UK's latitude.  

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  7. Davz

    "In 2020 wind generation of uk output was 25%, remember though that includes night time generation that went to waste. "

    I wonder if thats accurate. Because when demand for power is very low, I recall reading somewhere that wind farms get turned off. So I would think the 25% of generation would only include when the turbines are actually generating power. I stand to be corrected if anyone can post a link saying otherwise.


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  8. Dav8id-acct:

    Everyone knows that new build power supplies are rated by maximum capacity to generate.  You are simply arguing semantics when you object to the industry standard.

    I note that you have no citations to support your claims.

    The Jacobson et al paper you cite with no link concludes that a fully renewable system using batteries at the current cost would be the cheapest way to generate future energy.  He finds that there will be no problems supplying electyricity 24/7/365.  Renewable energy that produces 20% of rated capacity is the cheapest electricity in the world.  Your unsupported claims have no merit.

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  9. Davez

    Your unsupported claims also have no merit.

    Renewable energy is the cheapest electricity in the world.  While the turbines and solar farms cost billions to build, they saved more billions when gas prices went up. Carbon Brief has several articles where they analyze the enormous amounts of money saved by renewable energy and document that "cutting out the green crap" in the UK ended up costing consumers billions more when gas prices went up.  Simply stating how much it costs to build renewaable installations without considering how much low cost electricity is generated is deceptive.

    Battery storage currently competes on cost with gas peaker plants.  Battery costs are rapidly decreasing.  Batteries will replace all peaker plants due to economics in the near future.

    You argue that wind energy at night is wasted (without any citations to support this wild claim) and then say that nuclear, which cannot be turned off at night, is the way to go.  That is a direct contradiction that negates your argument.  In France nuclear generation is only 70% of nameplate because they have to close up on weekends.  They sell nuclear electricity at a loss at night. 

    Nuclear supporters like you ignore the fact that nuclear requires at least as much storage as renewable energy does.  The largest pumped hydro storage facilities in the USA were all built to store nuclear electricity generated at night.  This is a second contradiction in your arguments that negates your claims.

    In any case, nuclear is too expensive and there is not enough uranium to build a significant amount of nuclear.  

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  10. Michael

    A few points to clarify context - Using gross capacity factor is misleading since it greatly overstates the projected electric generation as noted by the except below from the US energy department.

    Capacity factors allow energy buffs to examine the reliability of various power plants. It basically measures how often a plant is running at maximum power. A plant with a capacity factor of 100% means it’s producing power all of the time.

    Nuclear has the highest capacity factor of any other energy source—producing reliable, carbon-free power more than 92% of the time in 2021. That’s nearly twice as reliable as a coal (49.3%) or natural gas (54.4%) plant and almost 3 times more often than wind (34.6%) and solar (24.6%) plants.

    When comparing capacity factors, its important to fully understand the different reasons why each type operates below their capacity ratings. Fossil fuel generation has greatly reduced generation below capacity during the spring and fall when demand is the lowest, while achieving much higher rates of capacity when needed in the winter and summer. Whereas, Wind and solar produce at or near capacity when weather conditions are optimal. You have to compare apples with apples

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  11. Michael

    n response to your reply, My comment is fully supported by the source data which I linked to

    See Jacobson appendix / table S11 which I cited. Those values I cited are directly from his study

    The german electric generation data is directly from the source data I cited. I am reposting the link for your benefit.


    I alwasy cross check against the source data so that I can evaluate the statements based on factual evidence


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  12. Michael @ #9 in response Davz

    Your statement that France's nuclear shuts down over the weekends appears to be completely unsupported. Do you have link to any source data to shows that statement to be correct.

    This link from France's gov shows no such shutting down of nuclear on weekends.

    It would also be contrary to every other country that uses nuclear. I have attached a link to the for electric generation by source (which I have frequently linked to). Electric generation from Nuclear is just about as constant as constant can be. Same story for Germany, prior to the closing

    Can you provide any citations for your other statements in your response to Davz


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  13. Oops  - forgot to link to the EIA electric generation by source.  Always best to provide links to the raw source data to back up any statement


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  14. "Davz not here, man."

    (Extra points for whoever gets the cultural reference.)

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  15. David-acct:

    Your posts supportuing nuclear power are off topic on this thread.

    I have replied to you on topic here.

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  16. David-acct at 10:

    You continue to insist that the industry standard terminology is misleading.  If you do your homework you will be able to understand commonly used technology terms without confusion.   Industry terms are intended for use by people who have read the backiground information and understand the meaning of the vocabulary used.

    Your nuclear comments are off topic.  World wide nuclear capacity factors are much lower than your cherry picked high years in the USA.  80% capacity factors is more the mark.  France, the country that generates the highest fraction of their electricity using nuclear power, had a capacity factor of 51% in 2022.  I addressed this in the post linked above.



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  17. David-acct:

    You have still not linked the Jacobson et al report you claim to be citing.  Perhaps it is this one.   

    In the paper you appear to be citing the analysis by Jacobson et al show that renewable energy can provide all needed energy for the entire world 24/7/365 with a monetary savings of approximately US$62 trillion per year (mostly health savings from reduced pollution).  The system will be at least as reliable as the current fossil system.  The supposed problems you claim to expose have been dealt with completely.  Linking to cherry picked factoids with no analysis does not support your argument (and you provide no links).  

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  18. David-acct at 12:

    I went back and looked at your link to French electricity generation where you claim: :

    "This link from France's gov shows no such shutting down of nuclear on weekends."

    My emphasis.  The days are not cherry picked, they are the only days I looked at.  8/10 is a Thursday and 8/5 is a Saturday.

    date   time   Power MW  
    8/10 2:45 31645  
    8/10 13:45 30424  
    8/5 4:15 28489  
    8/5 16:15 25548  

    Several question about this raw data occured to me.

    1) You state clearly that the data shows no nuclear power stations were shut down.  Please explain why the power generated on the weekend  is so much less than the power generated on Thursday.  How does this show that no power stations were shut down over the weekend?  It appears to me that about 6 of 31 power stations (20%) were turned off.

    2) On both days they are generating more power at night when power is generated at a loss than they are generating during the day when the price of electricity is much higher.  Can you explain why the "always on" nuclear plants generate less power during the most expensive part of the day than they do when electricity is cheapest?

    This example proves beyond doubt that examining cherry picked factoids without any analysis is a complete waste of time.  Please do not cite raw data any more.  You need to cite analysis of data that filter out gross errors.

    moderator: I thought this was appropriate posted here because it addresses the topic of examining data without analysis.  I plan to also post it in the nuclear thread because it addresses common nuclear issues.

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