As part of his agenda against climate change, President Joe Biden for the first time outlined in concrete terms what America’s envisaged energy transition should look like. According to this, the country could generate almost half (44 percent) of its electricity from solar energy by 2050. At the moment it is just 3 percent. To achieve this, the United States would have to radically change its current energy supply, because the majority of the country’s electricity needs are now covered by fossil fuels.
Investing in solar energy would add up to $ 0.56 trillion in overspending between 2020 and 2050, according to the new Energy Department report. The state, consumers and the economy would have to pay for these costs. The country would have to invest massively in new technologies, and the energy industry would have to fundamentally reposition itself, as the existing infrastructure for generating and distributing electricity is entirely based on fossil fuels.
But at the same time, the report said, the US would save $ 1.7 trillion through cleaner air, lower healthcare costs and reduced impacts of climate change. The then growing solar industry could also create new jobs: Depending on the scenario, the number of employees in the sector would increase from currently 230,000 to 0.5 to 1.5 million by 2035.
With the plans now presented, Biden is not yet setting a hard target, but is launching a debate about how the energy transition, which he had promised to the citizens in the election campaign, should look in concrete terms. As a presidential candidate, he had demanded that the US should use renewable energy sources for all of its electricity supply by 2035 – an extremely ambitious project based on the current share, which is around 20 percent.
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In a statement, Energy Minister Jennifer Granholm was confident that the goals outlined could be achieved. However, this requires “a massive and evenly distributed use of renewable energies and strong guidelines for decarbonisation”.
The sun is an inexpensive source of energy
But the Department of Energy’s report and Biden’s plans are based on the assumption that Congress would be willing to support the massive investment in the energy sector and the new regulations. That is anything but given. Resistance is likely to come primarily from the states that currently cover most of America’s electricity needs.
However, Texas, for example, has shown how an economy can be restructured in recent years: The former oil state recently upgraded its wind and solar industries enormously. A huge solar energy park is currently being built north of Dallas, which could cover the electricity needs of 300,000 single-family homes and which should be completed in 2023.
The government also plays into the hands of the fact that the cost of solar panels has fallen enormously in recent years and that they are already the cheapest source of energy in large parts of the country. For Americans in the lower and middle income brackets, this may well be the decisive argument in favor of a conversion – and less the danger of climate change.
In addition to the plans now announced for the solar sector, the Biden government also wants to build hundreds of new wind turbines off America’s coasts – according to a report by the Yale School of the Environment, the country currently has just seven.
The auto industry also plays a key role in Biden’s plans for the energy transition: by 2030, half of all newly sold cars should be electrically powered, according to the government’s recently set goal.
Greater exposure to extreme weather events
Biden also emphasized the importance of the energy transition for climate protection when he visited New York and New Jersey on Tuesday, where a few days ago hurricane “Ida” wreaked havoc. “This summer alone, communities of more than 100 million Americans have been hit by extreme weather events,” he said.
The government takes the position that the energy turnaround is urgent because the country’s dependence on fossil fuels is particularly expensive in times of climate change. In Louisiana, for example, hundreds of thousands of citizens have been without electricity since the devastation caused by Hurricane Ida.
In Northern California, too, the local electricity provider turns off the electricity for residents as soon as the risk becomes too great that trees could fall onto power lines running above ground and cause fires in a storm. And in Texas, after a winter storm in February, tens of thousands of citizens were stuck in their homes for days without heating.
But Biden’s ambitious plans threaten not only to fail due to domestic political resistance. A crucial question will also be how the US intends to meet its increased demand for components for solar panels without increasing its dependence on China.
The Middle Kingdom is one of the most important players in the supply chain, as the report by the Ministry of Energy points out. In order not to make the energy transition dependent on Beijing’s favor, the USA would have to massively expand its own production capacities – and would still hardly achieve the same low unit costs as the competition from China.
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