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US grid could be ‘90% green’ by 2035 – if policy favours renewables

The US could achieve 90% clean, carbon-free electricity nationwide by 2035, according to a new report from researchers from the University of California, Berkeley.

The 2035 Report uses the latest renewable energy and battery cost data to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of achieving the aim.

It claims that the 90% milestone could be reached dependably nationwide, with no extra cost to consumers, and without new fossil fuel plants. However, the US would need to double solar and wind annual deployments through the 2020s. Storage deployment would need to grow 25% year, from 523 MW in 2019 to 20,000 MW in 2035.

In the report’s ‘90% clean’ scenario, US electricity demand would be met dependably (every hour of the year) with a 90% clean grid by 2035. Wind, solar and batteries would provide 70% of annual generation. Existing hydropower and nuclear infrastructure would provide 20% and also compensate for very high demand and/or very low renewable generation. Meanwhile, natural gas plants would provide about 10% of annual generation – a figure about 70% lower than in 2019.

The falling costs of renewable energy and battery technology would also see wholesale electricity costs drop by 10% by 2035 under the scenario. But these lower costs would require investment in transmission spurs connecting renewable generation to existing high-capacity transmission lines or load centres.

The report points to substantial benefits under the 90% scenario. It would help to avoid $1.2tn in health and environmental damages by reducing CO2 emissions by 88%, and exposure to fine particulate matter such as nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide by 96% and 99% respectively. The rapid buildout of additional renewable energy would also inject $1.7tn of investment into the economy and increase energy sector jobs by up to 530,000 per year to 2035.

‘We’re talking about the ability to achieve near-100% clean electricity by 2035, in half the time most people are talking about,’ said David Wooley, Professor at the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy and Executive Director of the Center for Environmental Public Policy. ‘This is exciting, because the 2035 timeframe is actually compatible with climate realities. However, this outcome is not possible without strong policy changes and our hope is this report can help inform the dialogue on federal, state, and corporate policies needed to achieve it.’

The 2035 Report is accompanied by a set of policy recommendations from policy firm Energy Innovation. It suggests establishing a technology-neutral national clean energy standard targeting 90% by 2035 and 100% by 2045. Additional recommendations include offering more liquid incentives for clean energy investment, supporting and retraining coal-dependent communities and addressing wholesale market failures.

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