Opinion

The U.S. Electric Grid of the Future Powers a Stronger Economy and Environment

By Abigail Ross Hopper , Tom Kiernan , Kelly Speakes-Backman & Malcolm Woolf
June 26, 2020 at 5:00 am ET

As the CEOs of America’s leading renewable and clean energy associations, we believe it’s time to examine our paths toward the future. Working together, we can bring about a market transformation to build a strong, resilient U.S. electric grid that derives more than half its power from clean energy by the end of the decade.

How do we get there? The truth is that we’ve already started, and both momentum and demand are building.

Solar and wind power are each committed to producing 20 percent of the nation’s energy by 2030, and hydropower has charted a course to reach an additional 50 GW of power produced by 2050. Energy storage is projected to reach 100 GW of new energy storage by 2030, enabling at least a 50 percent renewable and clean energy future. These targets are ambitious, measurable, and attainable. And with aggressive, forward-thinking policies in place to support this vision, that is just the beginning of what’s possible. 

In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic and the fight for racial justice playing out across the country have required us to pause and consider what our future holds. We believe that by committing to a clean, renewable, and affordable shared vision, we can cut emissions while playing a crucial role in our nation’s social and economic recovery.

Each of our industries — solar, hydropower, wind and energy storage — has its own story to tell. But we are united behind four common principles that drive all our efforts: significant carbon reductions; a resilient, efficient, sustainable, and affordable grid that produces low-cost energy; fair market competition; and active collaboration.

Wind energy has grown at a remarkable pace and passed a significant milestone in 2019 as the nation’s largest renewable power source and the most affordable source of electricity in most regions of the country. Today wind is an economic choice, as technological innovation and enhanced domestic manufacturing have driven wind’s costs down 70 percent since 2009. Wind is one of the few industries creating new manufacturing jobs, with 530 factories across the United States building parts for wind turbines.

In order to achieve 20 percent solar by 2030, an industry roadmap shows that the industry will need to add 500 GW of new capacity and grow 18 percent annually by 2030. If this is achieved, more than 14 million rooftops will have solar and 600,000 Americans will have a solar job. We will invest $345 billion into our economy and solar will be the largest source of new electricity capacity. And early in this new decade, we will provide opportunity for all Americans to benefit from solar growth, in terms of jobs and career growth, the diversity of our customer base and environmental justice. 

Hydropower and pumped storage hydropower are renewable energy force multipliers: carbon-free electricity generation and storage that power over 30 million American homes while providing needed flexibility to help integrate other renewables onto the grid. Since 97 percent of existing U.S. dams are not currently used for power generation, hydropower is far from tapped out. Historically our nation’s first renewable energy resource, hydropower and pumped storage already provide over 100 GW of carbon-free capacity and have the potential to add almost 25 GW more onto the grid by 2030. 

Energy storage is the uniting factor that binds the nation’s generating capacity together, allowing us to reach a disruption-proof grid. Whether it’s a rise in peak summer electricity demand or disruptions from extreme weather events, cyber threats, conventional power plant outages, or an imbalance between supply and demand, our energy grid is vulnerable. Energy storage provides flexibility and protects against these vulnerabilities. Rapidly falling costs for installed grid battery storage – more than 70 percent in the past five years, expansive growth – 34 times over in the last five years, and rapid technological advances mean a stronger, more resilient and responsive grid is well within reach. 

Innovation has demonstrably made each of our industries stronger and more efficient. By applying advances and working together, a majority renewable, clean energy future is achievable. It also allows us the opportunity to further our commitment to environmental and racial justice as we create jobs, rebuild the economy, and help solve the climate crisis.

U.S. families and businesses will reap the rewards of energy solutions that combine renewable power and storage. Reaching a 50 percent renewable energy grid supported by energy storage in a decade is an exciting and achievable transformation in the way we power our lives, and we’ll meet that challenge together. We’re ready to deliver the electric grid of the future in a way that makes our economy, our communities and our environment stronger.

 

Abigail Ross Hopper is the president & CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association. Tom Kiernan is the president of the American Wind Energy Association. Kelly Speakes-Backman is the CEO of the U.S. Energy Storage Association. Malcolm Woolf is the president & CEO of the National Hydropower Association.

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