In the 100+ days since he took office (we’ve lost track of whether that seems like yesterday or 50 years ago), President Joseph Biden has been busy rolling out climate actions. He has restored and expanded protections of public lands, centered climate change for federal agencies and policies, and made environmental justice a top priority. He has set a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. He has instructed federal agencies to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies from their budgets starting in fiscal year 2022. And he shows no signs of slowing down.
Biden has prioritized climate action more than any previous administration, and it will be exciting to see what innovations come from his proposed investments and incentives.
We love to see it. But what do all of those actions actually mean? And how will they help us get to a 100% clean energy future?
We’re breaking down some of the Biden administration’s key climate actions for you. Bear with us while we try to contain our inner energy nerds.
American Innovation Effort
In February, Biden announced that he was creating a Climate Innovation Working Group. Some of the group’s key responsibilities include:
- Drastically lowering the cost of energy storage, to just one-tenth of what it is today. Better energy storage is a really important aspect of expanding renewable energy. Think about solar power, for instance. Solar power is generated during the day when the sun is shining. But that doesn’t align with the times that we use the most electricity — first thing in the morning and in the evening. If we can find more effective ways to store the solar energy generated during the day so that we can use it when the demand is highest, solar power becomes more viable and attractive.
- Creating tools to more efficiently operate an energy grid powered by renewable sources. This speaks a bit to the storage question above, but also to the question of where renewable energy is generated. Say California, a very sunny state, generates more solar energy than it needs. A more efficient grid could make it easier to transmit that energy to another area. The same goes for wind power. Many of the windiest parts of the country are pretty remote. If we can get that electricity to more densely populated areas, it’s even more useful. A more efficient and renewable grid will also increase resiliency to climate emergencies like the wildfires in California or the snowstorm in Texas.
- Lowering the cost of electric vehicles (EVs) and transportation systems. The transportation sector accounts for 29% of US greenhouse gas emissions, so electrifying vehicles needs to be a big part of decarbonizing our economy. Price is still a big barrier for many potential EV buyers. There are others, which we’ll touch on more below.
Biden also announced $100 million in funding from the Department of Energy for low-carbon energy technologies. Together, these two moves are meant to help spur the development of innovative climate solutions — and the jobs to go with them.
New carbon reduction goals
At his climate summit last month, President Biden made a formal pledge under the Paris Climate Agreement that the US will cut its carbon emissions by 50-52% (from 2005 levels) by 2030. That’s double the previous target, set by the Obama administration, of a 26-28% reduction in the same timeframe.
How does Biden plan to do that? First, by decarbonizing the energy industry. To meet Biden’s 2030 target, we’ll have to go from getting about 21% of our electricity from renewable sources to getting at least 50% from renewables. That’s a central part of his broader climate strategy. In January, he set a goal of achieving a carbon pollution-free electricity sector by 2035. Currently, the electricity sector accounts for 25% of US greenhouse gas emissions.
Biden also plans to increase EV adoption, including of government vehicle fleets, and increase building efficiency.
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- A new clean energy standard: One of the biggest climate aspects of the infrastructure plan is a national clean energy standard. This would require utilities to get a certain percentage of their power from clean sources. The amount will increase over the next 15 years, moving us closer to a 100% clean power grid. Congress will determine the exact standard, but it will have to be pretty aggressive to meet the targets that Biden has set for reducing carbon emissions. Many states have already passed their own clean energy standards, so having one, unified standard for the entire country would actually be helpful to utility companies.
- Funding for electric vehicles: In addition to the cost of EVs, many consumers worry about the lack of charging infrastructure. That’s starting to change, but slowly. Biden wants to create a nationwide network of 500,000 EV charging stations by 2030 and electrify 20% of US school buses.
- $35 billion for innovative climate technologies: Many of these technologies will probably focus on climate-capture technologies, but there could be clean energy technologies, as well. These types of projects are seeing increasing interest from investors, including from big names like Bill Gates and Elon Musk.
- $100 billion to modernize the electric grid and make it more resilient: We’ve discussed this a bit already with the Climate Innovation Working Group, but here Biden wants to tackle transmission. He has proposed the creation of a Grid Deployment Authority to oversee this as well as incentives for high-voltage transmission lines that will make it easier to bring renewable energy to other parts of the grid.
- $400 billion in tax credits to incentivize renewable energy investments: This includes continued incentives for installing rooftop solar panels.
The trick here? The plan is going to need congressional approval, and Biden may not have the votes to pass all parts of it.
Expanding offshore wind capacity
The Biden administration hopes to generate 30 GW of electricity from offshore wind by 2030, enough to power more than 10 million homes and avert some 78 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. There’s a lot of work to do to meet that goal — the administration will need to speed up the permitting process along the East Coast, invest in research as well as alterations to the ports that will provide access to the offshore wind farms, and provide incentives for industry. Currently, the US only has one offshore wind farm, off the coast of Rhode Island, so this will be a major ramping up. Several coastal states have made commitments to buy offshore wind power, though. And just this week, the US’s first large-scale offshore wind farm was approved for construction off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. The Vineyard Wind project will generate enough electricity to power about 400,000 homes.
Biden has prioritized climate action more than any previous administration, and it will be exciting to see what innovations come from his proposed investments and incentives. But we have another way to both increase clean energy quickly and make it accessible to more people: community solar.
Community solar makes it easy for anyone who pays a power bill to get the benefits of solar energy, all without installing their own panels. It’s the most direct way that residential electricity customers can help put more clean energy into their local power supply. And we don’t even have to wait for the federal government to act. States can pass legislation to enable community solar. Several already have, or are in the process of making community solar a reality. The more states that get onboard, the more people can get involved in creating the 100% clean energy future.