US power sector
Image credit: PXFuel

The United States can deliver 90% clean, dependable, carbon-free electricity nationwide by 2035, at no extra cost to consumer bills and without the need for new fossil fuel plants. However, without urgent policy support, the sector’s potential to become fully decarbonised as soon as 2045 is at dire risk.

That’s according to the latest study released by the University of California, Berkeley, which is accompanied by a set of policy recommendations proposing the establishment of a technology-neutral national clean energy standard targeting 90% by 2035 and 100% by 2045.

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The study also finds that without robust policy reforms, most of the potential to reduce emissions and increase jobs will not be realized.

2035 Report: Plummeting Solar, Wind, and Battery Costs Can Accelerate Our Clean Energy Future is the first study of its kind to show how recent cost declines for solar, wind, and battery storage allow the US to dramatically reduce generation and emissions from existing fossil power plants while retiring coal and reducing gas generation by 70%.

The rapid buildout of additional renewable energy would inject $1.7 trillion of investment into the economy and increase energy sector jobs by up to 530,000 per year through 2035, across all regions of the U.S., without raising consumer bills. Delivering 90% clean electricity by 2035 also avoids $1.2 trillion in environmental and health costs through 2050 by reducing damages from air pollution and carbon emissions.

The 2035 time frame for near-complete decarbonisation of the power sector is significant because it is 15 years earlier than projected in most state and national policy proposals, which provide little hope that the worst climate change impacts can be avoided.

The 2035 target also allows sufficient time for most coal and gas plants to recover their fixed costs, thereby avoiding risk of stranded costs for consumers and investors, if the right policies are in place.

Wind, solar, and battery storage can provide the bulk of the clean power.

The report finds that new fossil fuel generators are not needed. Existing gas plants used infrequently and combined with storage, hydropower, and nuclear power are sufficient to meet demand during periods of extraordinarily low renewable energy generation or exceptionally high electricity demand.

Power generation from natural gas plants would drop by 70% in 2035 compared to 2019.

“Cost reductions in clean technology have occurred much faster than anticipated just a few years ago,” said Dr. Amol Phadke, Senior Scientist and affiliate at UC Berkeley’s Center for Environmental Public Policy.

“This is the first report to integrate the latest low prices for renewable energy and storage and shows it is technically and economically feasible to deliver 90 percent carbon-free electricity on the US power grid by 2035.”

“We’re talking about the ability to achieve near-100& clean electricity by 2035, in half the time most people are talking about,” said Phadke.

Additional recommendations include complementary policies that support clean energy deployment, address wholesale market failures, remake utility grid regulation, and ensure an equitable and fair energy transition for impacted communities.

David Wooley, professor at the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy and Executive Director of the Center for Environmental Public Policy said: “This is exciting, because the 2035 timeframe is actually compatible with climate realities. However, this outcome isn’t possible without strong policy changes and our hope is this report can help inform the dialogue on federal, state, and corporate policies needed to achieve it.”

Sonia Aggarwal, Vice President at Energy Innovation, said: “What an incredible opportunity for economic stimulus. A federal clean energy standard, supported by government investments in deployment and American manufacturing, could put us back on track for a healthier economy. Meanwhile, continued policy leadership from the states can bolster progress.”

GridLab provided research and technical support for the 2035 Report.

The US energy transition is a key focus at DISTRIBUTECH 2021 on March 30 – April 1, 2021 | Orlando, Florida.
Click here to register your attendance and find out how you can contribute to North America’s smart energy future.