Electricity Decarbonation 2035

October 6, 2021

In early September, the federal government released one of its most ambitious plans yet for the U.S. clean energy transition. The Department of Energy (DOE), in its Solar Futures Study, outlined a blueprint to power the country with a whopping 40 percent solar energy by 2035—a mere 14 years from now. This shift would require dramatically restructuring the electricity system and embracing a whole new perspective on how and where we get our energy, with the goal of eventually reaching a zero-carbon-emissions grid. But how realistic is this solar transition, especially given the short time horizon?

The amount of electricity that the DOE envisions as coming from solar alone in 2035 is more than American homes consume in total today, from all energy sources. To get to such a high solar share in the next 14 years, the U.S. would need to quadruple the amount of solar power that it adds to the grid every year, so that by 2035 around 1,000 gigawatts of installed solar capacity would be supplying our homes and workplaces. To put this in perspective, last year the U.S. installed 15 gigawatts of solar, for a cumulative total of 76 gigawatts. That itself was a record amount, and it represented just 3 percent of the country’s total electricity supply. So we’re talking a full-on solar explosion to get to 40 percent.

The good news is the DOE says it’s doable, and the benefits would be unquestionable. For one, we’d have a much cleaner power grid, significantly reducing both local pollution from fossil fuel power plants and the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. The Solar Futures Study estimates that the health savings alone from reduced carbon emissions and improved air quality would reach $1.7 trillion—far more than the cost of making the entire transition to solar. We’d also transform our economy, with the push to solarize the grid employing up to 1.5 million people by 2035 (3 million if you include all clean energy technologies). And importantly, this could all happen without having to raise electricity prices, because of the savings from improvements in technologies.

Read how we can actually do this here.

Contributed by Generation 180