Just as Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan puts a focus on renewable energy and America’s conversion to electric vehicles, the entire globe is embracing renewable power at record rates.
The International Renewable Energy Agency, or IRENA, reported Monday that despite the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, worldwide renewable energy capacity grew by more than 260 megawatts in 2020, up more than 50% from the year before.
The total comprised more than 80% of all new electricity capacity, with solar and wind generation making up 91% of the new green capacity. In total, renewable power makes up more than a third of electricity generated on the planet nowadays.
The rising share of renewables is fed in part by the decommissioning of fossil fuel power plants in Europe, North America, Russia and Eurasia. That global trend, as well as international commitments to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, are echoed in the Biden infrastructure plan, as well as incentives for EV adoption, building charging stations and decommissioning fossil fuel sites. New fossil fuel generation was only 60 megawatts worldwide last year.
‘Trend Is Unstoppable’
“Despite the challenges and uncertainties of 2020, renewable energy emerged as a source of undeniable optimism” for a fairer, more resilient energy system, said IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera, who issued a statement. “2020 marks the start of the decade of renewables. Costs are falling, clean tech markets are growing and never before have the benefits of the energy transition been so clear. The trend is unstoppable.”
Stephanie Osborne, executive director of the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association, a trade group embracing the renewable energy sector, said the momentum seen globally is also apparent at home.
“The demand is absolutely there,” Osborne told Arkansas Business, who said advanced energy companies have been thriving through the COVID crisis and are looking forward.
“Look at the benefits it is bringing to our economy. In a year when so many industries struggled to retain employees, most of my members were busier than ever and hiring more employees,” she said. “And look at the great things [renewable energy] is doing for our schools. “Those investing in solar power are saving enough to invest in teacher raises and other improvements.”
She also pointed to benefits for Arkansas’ electrical grid.
“From residential rooftop solar to the cooperatives to utility providers like Entergy, everyone is investing in solar power because they know how good it is for our state. Adding more and more diverse sources of energy to the grid makes power more reliable and affordable for all of Arkansas. With regulatory certainty and time, I think you will see Arkansas continue to climb the national rankings as a leader in renewable energy.”
The White House Plan
The White House is definitely encouraging that view of the future.
In addition to billions for roads and bridges, it proposes $35 billion for addressing climate change and developing clean energy resources, and would set up grants and incentives to reach a goal of 500,000 EV charging stations by 2030. There’s also a striking $174 billion proposal to “win the EV market,” as Biden put it, by helping American car makers expand domestic supply chains and retool factories to make electric cars and car parts.
The infrastructure plan, which would be financed through higher income taxes on Americans making above $400,000 a year and a corporate tax hike from 22% to 28%, has generally been a nonstarter with Republicans, but Democrats could attempt to pass some version of it without GOP support, as they did with the Biden financial stimulus package. Still, it could be a hard sell to some moderate Democratic senators, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Biden’s platform would apply $16 billion for creating jobs capping orphan oil and gas wells and reclaiming abandoned coal and uranium mines.
Many of the clean-energy measures, including the EV push and the millions of additional charging ports, go hand in hand with $213 billion for retrofitting buildings and residences in the campaign to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
A Grid Overhaul
The White House is also calling for Congress to put $100 billion of the infrastructure into re-energizing America’s power infrastructure.
“It has never been more important for us to invest in strengthening our infrastructure and competitiveness, and in creating the good-paying, union jobs of the future," Biden said.
Various researchers have calculated the nation must at least double its electric transmission capacity to take advantage of electric vehicles and successfully decarbonize the economy by midcentury.
The proposal would "put hundreds of thousands of people to work laying thousands of miles of transmission lines," according to the White House, through a new Grid Deployment Authority within the U.S. Department of Energy.
Reliability of the nation’s electric grid, long seen as vulnerable by experts, was a major lesson of February’s power generation crisis in Texas and beyond, when a record freeze disrupted power production and contributed to the deaths of 120 people.