The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has released a report exploring the future of solar power in this country. The 310-page report, “Solar Futures Study”, uses multiple models to simulate various regulatory conditions to provide a comprehensive outlook on American solar potential.
The future energy mix of the United States is not certain. There is mounting pressure to move the nation away from fossil fuels to generate electricity, with renewable alternatives like solar and wind power gaining strength not only in the Oval Office and Capitol but also in the market. A welcome consequence of such pressure is the swaths of research being done on virtually every aspect of a renewable future in order to understand the options as the country moves forward.
The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy examines what would be necessary for a fully solar future. The research uses multiple models to account for different regulatory landscapes that would have a massive effect on the future of solar power. The three main models used are a “reference” scenario that represents “business-as-usual”; a “decarbonization” scenario which “assumes policies drive a 95 percent reduction (from 2005 levels) in the grid’s carbon dioxide emissions by 2035 and a 100 percent reduction by 2050”; and, a “decarbonization with electrification” scenario, which includes “large-scale electrification of end uses”.
According to the study, solar will grow regardless of whether there are changes in policy. The DOE estimates a seven-fold increase in solar capacity by 2050, with grid-level emissions reductions of 45 percent by 2035 and of 61 percent by 2050. As stated in the article, “even without a concerted policy effort, market forces and technology advances” will push solar in the future. In the “decarbonization” and “decarbonization with electrification” scenarios, solar capacity is drastically increased compared to the “reference” model.
The study estimates that by 2035, solar will power 37 to 42 percent of electricity demand in both “decarbonization” and “decarbonization with electrification” models, with the remaining demand being met by other renewables such as wind and hydroelectric power. By 2050, solar capacity would rise again for both models, with solar meeting 44 to 45 percent of electricity demand.
It is important to note that these figures rely on the deployment of many wide-ranging regulatory policies to facilitate such growth and development of solar power at a cost-effective price point. Additionally, ancillary technology such as grid-scale batteries would also be necessary for solar to truly flourish in the U.S. The move to carbon-free energy sources will require the country to meet a number of challenges and deal with the impacts of moving away from fossil fuels that must be addressed in the near term in order to meet the goal of decarbonization.