America Can Nearly Quadruple Its Renewable Electricity By 2030

A recent Union of Concerned Scientists (USC) study found that America can nearly quadruple its renewable electricity in the next 15 years, reaching 23% by 2030. This comes in response to the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal that America set a modest goal of 12% renewable energy by 2030. Rachel Cleetus, Senior Climate Economist of UCS, referred to the EPA’s goal as just a fraction above “business as usual.” The UCS found raising this target, to +23% of the nation’s electricity from non-hydro renewable sources by 2030, would cost the average household only about 18 cents per month. Cleetus described this as a realistic and affordable goal: “Looking at the way renewable energy is ramping up and costs are falling dramatically, there is a real opportunity to go farther.”

Seven states are already exceeding their proposed goals set by EPA for 2030 and another 17 have existing laws that require more renewable electricity than what the EPA requires. Nine states already report electricity from wind and/or solar in two figures. Iowa and South Dakota are at the top of this list, having both achieved 24%. Oregon has also joined this group, with 10%.

UCS started by using what states have accomplished during the past five years as a benchmark. They found that the national average annual growth rate in renewables has been 1% over the period 2009-2013. The UCS study assumes that, by 2020, every US state will at least meet the national benchmark of 1%. Some leading states that are already at or above that level would continue to grow at their current rate, subject to maximum growth rate of 1.5% a year.

Their plan has lower proposed targets than the EPA for four states. Unlike the EPA approach, which used regionally averaged targets from state Renewable Electricity Standards (RES), the UCS used a more ambitious state-by-state approach based on demonstrated experience. The lower UCS targets arose in states like New Hampshire, which is in a region with high RES targets and therefore has a comparatively high EPA target. The UCS approach would also reduce power sector CO2 emissions by an additional 10 percent by 2030 above EPA’s draft plan, bringing them 40% below 2005 levels.

“I know that there are other groups working on strengthening other provisions of the Clean Power Plan, for example increasing the level of energy efficiency, so it may be possible to reduce emissions even more,” said Cleetus.

“Wall Street articles from Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Goldman Sachs are predicting renewable energy, particularly solar, is where the growth is going to be, it’s no longer simply about competition between coal and natural gas,” said Cleetus. “Never mind the environmental considerations, which are very important, just from a market perspective we are probably going to see a very rapid scale up in renewables. The question is, will it happen fast enough and at the scale that we need it to from a climate perspective.”

Though the market is already going into renewables, America needs policies that push this growth as quickly as possible.

Setting serious emission reduction goals, especially if the Clean Power Plan is strengthened, sets up a positive dynamic. If the US takes emissions reductions seriously, it encourages other countries to do the same.

The EPA’s proposal has prompted serious discussions.

“The Clean Power Plan is a significant first step,” said Cleetus. “Thus far, individual states like the RGGI states and California have been taking the leadership role, but we need to do more on a National level. This includes Congress taking action on climate and energy policy.”

“We don’t have a lot of time. The window of opportunity to keep global warming below 2 degrees is rapidly closing,” said Cleetus. There needs to be a greater level of ambition, not just from the US but worldwide, if we are to sharply limit our emissions and slow the pace of climate change.”

A recent study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) shows that using technologies commercially available today, the US could obtain 80% its electricity from renewable sources by 2050. Most of that energy would come from variable energy sources like wind and solar. To get there, America needs to make smart investments and policy decisions that will move the country toward a cleaner energy future.