Renewables could meet US energy needs by 2035, study finds

renewable energy job creation
Brian Lawson and Kenesaw Burwell work on panels that the Energy Department is using to leverage a Power Purchase Agreement with Sun Edison and Xcel Energy. (Courtesy: Science in HD/Unslash)

The US could meet its current electricity needs using low-carbon sources by 2035 if the progress made in the past decade continues, according to a new study.

The new study, released by the Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group, states that the US needs to continue to expand its portfolio of renewables (wind, solar, geothermal) by 15% per annum, to achieve the 2035 milestone.

This in turn would help the US to achieve its decarbonization and energy transition goals.

The study, Renewables on the Rise 2021: The rapid growth of renewables, electric vehicles, and other building blocks of a clean energy future, states that the progress made in the past six years will be key to transforming the US economy to a renewables-based.

Today, the US produces over 23 times as much solar power as in 2011, enough to power more than 12 million average American homes. States that recorded the highest increases in solar energy generation include California, Texas, and North Carolina, according to the study.

Other key findings of the study include:

  • The US has nearly tripled its wind power capacity since 2011, enough to energise more than 31 million homes. In 2020, wind accounted for 8.4% of the nation’s electricity. Texas, Oklahoma, and Iowa installed more wind energy capacity than any other states in the US.
  • In 2019, efficiency programmes saved enough electricity to power more than 2.5 million homes. Maryland, Rhode Island and Massachusetts led in this sector.
  • From 2011 to 2020, the cumulative number of battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles sold grew 100-fold to nearly 1.7 million. Plug-in electric vehicle sales surpassed 2 million in 2021.
  • America’s battery storage capacity expanded more than 18-fold from 2011 to 2020 and grew by 67% in 2020 alone. California, Texas and Illinois have added the most battery storage from 2011 to 2020. 
  • As the efficiency of heat pumps has improved, they have become an attractive option across the  country. In 2015, 12% of all U.S. homes with heat used heat pumps, up from 8% a decade earlier.

Susan Rakov, chair of Environment America Research and Policy Center’s clean energy program, said: “These clean energy sources produce more and more of our power, they set the stage for other new technologies — like electric cars and heat pumps — to replace dirty and outdated ones, all while relying on clean power. That’s how we create a better, cleaner future.” 

Find out more about the report.

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