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How will the Biden administration use solar energy to achieve its zero-emissions goal?

The President has set the ambitious target of making the US carbon-neutral by 2050, but needs to secure support for his green infrastructure proposal first.

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How will the Biden administration use solar energy to achieve its zero-emissions goal?
PATRICK T. FALLON AFP

The Biden administration has released a new report outlining plans that would see the United States reach its ambitious zero-emissions goal by 2050.

The study from the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory believes that focusing on solar energy will be crucial in the coming decades if the US is to hit these targets.

The report states that, to meet Biden’s climate change goals, solar power would have to be increased to at least 37% of energy production by 2035 and 44% by 2050. As it stands, just 3% of the US’ energy requirements are fulfilled using solar power sources.

Additional clean energy sources will be required to supplement the solar yield, with wind likely to be the second-most used source. Nuclear power, hydropower and hydrogen gas will also be utilised.

Are Biden’s climate change targets realistic?

The release of this new study reiterates the Biden administration’s commitment to the ambitious climate change agenda and emphasises the importance of solar power to that effort. The Energy Department study has projected that the US would need to double its current annual rate of solar introduction by 2025, and then quadruple it in the late 2020s.

Currently, the vast majority of solar panels used in the States are imported from China, giving an additional dimension to consider. Fengqi You, an energy systems engineering professor at Cornell University, explained: “If we ramp up this production, that will involve complicated geopolitical issues.”

However the effort has been aided by the rapidly decreasing cost of solar power, which has plummeted in recent years. New solar production projects are often cheaper than the fossil fuel alternatives.

Solar future may hang on Biden’s green infrastructure proposals

This September could be a crucial one for the Biden administration as the months-long debate over his ambitious infrastructure agenda comes to a head. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has set a 27 September deadline to vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package that was brokered in the Senate.

The package lacks the support to garner a 60-vote supermajority so Biden is relying on a $3.5 trillion reconciliation proposal to supply the funding. The exact parameters of the infrastructure package are still unconfirmed but there is a focus on policies that help to tackle climate change.

In August a White House fact sheet reiterated the vital role that solar power would play in the infrastructure package and the President’s Build Back Better agenda. The press release promises “a bright future for solar power, good jobs, and affordable energy.”

The issue brief attached promises to focus on three key principles:

  • Investment in solar deployment supports the US clean energy revolution
  • Solar innovation can lower costs for consumers and communities
  • Solar energy is a job creator

However before these lofty aims can be realised, Biden needs to ensure that he keeps his caucus together and pushes through both the reconciliation package and the infrastructure proposal. Already there is a concerted effort to secure the vote of Sen Joe Manchin, the moderate Democrat who nearly scuppered the President’s American Rescue Plan earlier this year.

Speaking on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: "We're all, from senior levels of the White House, in close touch with a range of members, including Sen. Manchin and his team.”