Falling costs for renewables and storage technologies speeding elimination of carbon emissions from the U.S. electricity system
  • Falling costs for renewables, such as solar and wind power as well as batteries, make 90% cut in carbon emissions for U.S. electricity possible within 15 years, says a report.
  • Rooftop solar costs have fallen by 82% in the last decade.
  • Proper policy incentives, required investment into green energy would create millions of new jobs.

Falling costs for renewable energy and energy storage technologies may yield a potential 90% cut in carbon emissions for electricity in the U.S. by 2035, says a report from the University of California, Berkeley.

The drastic reductions in carbon emissions would only be accomplished with strong policies such as the U.S. government setting clean energy standards and extending tax credits that support developers of solar and wind farms, say the report’s authors including David Wooley, a professor at the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy.

Given the right policy incentives, the U.S. may come close to almost eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from its electricity sector more than a decade earlier than previously forecast, while adding millions of new jobs.

 “Achieving something like this in the U.S. will inspire other countries around the world to make similar kinds of commitments to a low-carbon future,” Wooley told Karma.

The trend is driven by an 82% drop in the cost of solar photovoltaics, or rooftop solar, and a 39% decline in the cost of onshore wind power since 2010, says IRENA. During the same time, battery storage costs have fallen by 85%.

Still, the White House has been resistant to limiting greenhouse gases. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the United-Nations-backed Paris Climate Agreement, which aims to curb carbon emissions and limit global warming. 

Wooley, who is also the executive director of the center for environmental public policy at UC Berkeley, says a change in Washington’s tone would enable a more supportive regulatory environment.

“Many people believe we’re close to a major political change in the U.S government,” he said. “So if that were to occur, I think there’s very strong support for this kind of policy.”

The report says that the ideal scenario would require maintaining or boosting several low-carbon energy sources including hydropower, nuclear, biomass, wind and solar power. Gas plants would continue to be used as back-up generation power, while most coal generation assets would be retired by 2035.

The U.S. would need to add about 70 gigawatts of new renewable energy each year to attain the carbon emission targets and meet its energy needs. That much energy would power about 13 million American households annually, says Wooley. 

The construction of the additional power infrastructure would create over 500,000 more jobs annually for the next 15 years.

Despite the construction projects, consumer wallets would not suffer too much because of the falling costs for renewable technologies. “We found that you could achieve [90% carbon emissions] reductions by 2035 with no increase in consumer costs relative to today,” says Wooley.