America can address our largest environmental challenges by shifting to 100 percent renewable energy. Renewable energy makes us safer and healthier, protecting our communities from global warming and from hazardous air pollution. Renewable energy reduces the need for dangerous and destructive practices like shipping explosive fuels through our cities, fracking for gas near our water supplies, or razing our mountains to dig up dirty coal.
An economy powered by 100 percent renewable energy is within our reach. First, we can reduce the total amount of energy we use through improved efficiency, even as our economy continues to grow. Second, we can tap America’s virtually inexhaustible supplies of energy from the wind, the sun, the land and the oceans.
Solar energy is expanding rapidly across the United States – increasing more than 100-fold over the past decade. But, there are still many untapped opportunities to harness the nation’s nearly limitless solar potential. The United States has the technical potential to produce more than 100 times as much electricity from solar photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP) installations as the nation consumes each year. Given our abundant solar resources, America must take advantage of untapped opportunities to install solar technologies – like using rooftops of large superstores and “big box” retail stores as hosts for clean electricity generation.
Wind power continues to grow as a source of clean energy across America. The United States generated 26 times more electricity from wind power in 2014 than it did in 2001. American wind power has already significantly reduced global warming pollution. In 2014 alone, wind-generated electricity averted an estimated 143 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions – as much as would be produced by 37 typical coal-fired power plants. With America’s massive potential for wind energy on land and off our coasts, wind power can play a key role in meeting the emission reduction targets of the recently adopted Clean Power Plan and moving the nation toward a future of 100 percent renewable electricity.
Solar power is clean, affordable and popular with the American people. Since 2010, America’s solar energy capacity has grown more than four-fold, generating increasing amounts of clean energy at increasingly affordable prices.
America’s solar progress is largely the result of bold, forward-thinking public policies that have created a strong solar industry while putting solar energy within the financial reach of millions more Americans.
Behind the scenes, however, electric utilities, fossil fuel interests and powerful industry front groups have begun chipping away at the key policies that have put solar energy on the map in the United States – often in the face of strong objections from a supportive public.
Solar energy is booming. In just the last three years, America’s solar photovoltaic capacity tripled. In 2014, a third of the United States’ new installed electric capacity came from solar power. And in three states – California, Hawaii, and Arizona– solar power now generates more than 5 percent of total electricity consumption.
Environment North Carolina Research and Policy Center is part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to social change.