Right now, solar power only comprises 0.23 percent of America’s electricity generation. But that percentage has the potential to skyrocket to 10 percent in the next 30 years, according to a report released Thursday by Environment America Research & Policy Center.
Though the figure might sound impossible to some, the report’s authors say the goal can be met, so long as the United States implements ambitious policy goals for solar energy. Those include a number of federal policies, including extending tax credits for solar energy, funding research for new solar-related innovation, and factoring renewable energy goals into the White House’s plan to fight global warming.
The report also recommends state and local governments implement ambitious policies to boost solar energy adoption and implementation. Those include incentives like net metering, which allows solar-powered households to sell electricity they don’t use to the grid for others to use, and third-party sales of electricity — in other words, letting companies that sell solar panels also sell electricity to their customers, rather than requiring customers to go through public utilities.
“We can get to 10 percent solar by 2030 if we just keep our foot on the accelerator,” Rob Sargent, the report’s co-author, said in a statement. “That’s a small fraction of what’s possible, but it will make a big difference in the quality of our lives and our children’s future.”
CREDIT: Environment America
Getting to 10 percent by 2030 requires a big boost in generation — specifically, a 22 percent growth rate every year for the next 15 years. But the report’s authors say that’s not too large a goal to be met, most notably because U.S. solar has grown by 77 percent in the last three years. All that’s needed is policies that keep the momentum going.
The problem with that goal is that, in states across the country, policies are being proposed and implemented that hinder solar power. As Brad Plumer points out in Vox, public utilities across the country are actively fighting against net metering laws and solar subsidies. And the free-market group American Legislative Exchange Council has been pushing forward with efforts to get states to repeal their Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), which require states to have a certain percentage of their energy to come from renewable sources.
That’s a problem, because in order for solar to keep growing, states need to be part of the game. Florida, for example, ranks third in the nation for solar potential — but it only ranks 18th for total installed solar power capacity. And that’s largely because Republican Gov. Rick Scott Florida refuses to implement a renewable portfolio standard, or allow solar leasing and third party solar sales.
Still, Environment America is optimistic, noting that acceleration of solar power in America would have numerous benefits for the economy, public health, and the climate. The industry itself, the report noted, added 143,000 jobs nationwide in 2013. And climate-wise, meeting the 10 percent goal would remove 280 million metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere by 2030, the equivalent of taking 59 million cars off the road.
“When it comes to solar energy, the sky’s the limit,” Sargent said. “Getting to 10 percent solar is the just the first step to a future powered entirely by pollution-free energy.”
You can read Environment America’s full report here.