- NREL report sees the US reaching a 100% decarbonized grid by 2035 with the help of renewables that need to be scaled up at ‘unprecedent’ levels
- Solar PV capacity coming online annually will need to increase to between 40 GW and 90 GW, while 70 GW to 150 GW of wind power will be required
- Technological innovations and cost reductions coupled with pace and scale of investment will eventually decide the exact technology mix to meet the 2035 target
For the US to achieve a 100% clean electricity powered grid by 2035, the country would need to grid connect 40 to 90 GW of solar annually and 70 to 150 GW wind by the end of this decade, according to all modeled scenarios envisioned by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in a new report.
A net zero grid could save the country an additional $1.2 trillion in terms of avoided cost of damage from the impacts of climate change, reads the NREL report titled Examining Supply-Side Options to Achieve 100% Clean Electricity by 2035.
All the 4 primary scenarios evaluated—all options, infrastructure renaissance, constrained, no CCS— focus on the supply of clean electricity including technical requirements, challenges, and benefit and cost implications.
It says there are multiple pathways to reaching 100% clean electricity where benefits exceed costs, however exact technology mix and costs will be determined by research and development (R&D), manufacturing and infrastructure investment decisions over the next decade.
However all modeled scenarios see clean energy technologies deployed at an ‘unprecedented’ scale with wind and solar alone providing 60% to 80% of generation in the least-cost electricity mix in 2035. Overall power generation capacity is modeled to grow to roughly 3 times the 2020 level by 2035, including a combined 2 TW wind and solar capacity.
While the technical potential for rooftop solar in the country is estimated at 1,118 GW, NREL report sees the need to install 190 GW rooftop PV deployment by 2035. By 2030, solar PV costs are assumed to decline by 14 to 44% and by 2035, this technology contributes 20 to 36% of total electricity supply.
The overall solar capacity in the 4 main scenarios range from 540 GW to 1 TW, similar to 760 GW and 1 TW projected in the 2 main Solar Futures Study scenarios (see US Wants 40% Electricity From Solar By 2035).
Whatever shortfall is there for these 2 technologies due to challenges related to siting and land use, it will be filled up by nuclear power that also more than doubles to 2035 compared to now.
Seasonal storage capacity, represented in the study as clean hydrogen-fueled combustion turbines but may include other emerging technologies, ranges from 100 GW to 680 GW in 2035.
The report writers estimate total additional power system costs between 2023 and 2035 to range between $330 billion to $740 billion across scenarios.
“The U.S. can get to 80%–90% clean electricity with technologies that are available today, although it requires a massive acceleration in deployment rates,” said NREL Analyst and Co-author of the study, Brian Sergi. “To get from there to 100%, there are many potentially important technologies that have not yet been deployed at scale, so there is uncertainty about the final mix of technologies that can fully decarbonize the power system. The technology mix that is ultimately achieved will depend on advances in R&D in further improving cost and performance as well as the pace and scale of investment.”
Challenges identified in the report to achieve full power sector decarbonization are:
- Dramatic acceleration of electrification and increased efficiency in buildings, transportation and industrial sectors
- Siting and interconnecting new renewable and storage plants at a rate ‘3 to 6 times greater than recent levels’ to set the stage for doubling or tripling the capacity of associated infrastructure
- Expanding clean energy manufacturing and supply chains will be helpful in ensuring unprecedented deployment rates, but how to rapidly scale up manufacturing still needs to be analyzed
- Continued R&D, demonstration and deployment support is required to bring emerging technologies to the market to overcome the last 10% to full decarbonization
The report writers add that none of the scenarios presented in the report include the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) energy provisions, but their inclusion is not expected to significantly alter the 100% systems explored—and the study’s insights on the implications of achieving net-zero power sector decarbonization by 2035 are expected to still apply.
However, the IRA is expected to bring solar growth in the US to the next level, boosting the technology more than any other, according to Jesse Jenkins, Professor at Princeton University, who heads the Zero Lab and shared preliminary analysis of the bill from the Rapid Energy Policy Evaluation and Analysis Toolkit (REPEAT) Project prior to actual passing. According to the analysis, the act will turbocharge annual additions of utility scale solar PV that were around 10 GW in 2020, to 49 GW per year in 2025-2026, about 5 times the 2022 pace, and its deployment will further increase thereafter, up to 129 GW per year in 2031-2032, much more than for any other technology (see Huge Solar Boost Expected After US Senate Passes Climate & Clean Energy Bill).