America’s Renewable Electricity Forecast Grows To 2050, Even Under Trump

Renewable energy has been growing at a breakneck pace in the U.S. for several years. Solar and wind made up the largest share of new capacity additions in 2016 for the third year in a row, with nearly two thirds of all new capacity. As more wind and solar farms are built, their costs continue falling, to the point where in several regions across the U.S., wind and solar are cheaper to build than coal and natural gas. It’s clear that, as Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Michael Liebreich declared last month, “this is not alternative energy. This is just mainstream, power-generating technology.”

Despite these economic and technology trends, the Trump Administration is attempting to alter America’s energy landscape, favoring fossil fuels over low-carbon energy technologies in an attempt to alter the picture for renewable energy in the U.S. In recent weeks, two potential policy shifts—opening up new areas to increased oil and gas drilling, and adding a tariff to imported solar panels— have been circulating at the federal level. But just how might these changes impact renewables?

Energy Innovation used the Energy Policy Simulator (EPS) to forecast wind and solar capacity additions to 2050 under three scenarios: a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, a low natural gas price scenario, and a solar import tariff scenario. The EPS open-source computer model is freely available for public use through a user-friendly web interface or by downloading the full model and input dataset. The EPS models the U.S. as a national power grid, accounts for limitations on renewables deployment due to limited grid flexibility, and includes endogenous price decreases based on the cumulative installed capacity of wind and solar.

Using the EPS, we find that low natural gas prices actually increase new long-term solar and wind capacity by inducing retirement of uneconomic coal power plants and increasing the amount of flexible natural gas on the grid. Unsurprisingly, a tariff on solar panel imports would result in a large solar capacity decrease by 2050, though it would add additional wind as well as some natural gas.



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