Solar energy has the potential to supply up to 40% of the nation's electricity within 15 years — a 10-fold increase over current solar output, but one that would require massive changes in U.S. policy and billions of dollars in federal investment to modernize the nation's electric grid, a new federal report says.

Solar energy has the potential to provide 40% of U.S. electricity and accelerate grid decarbonization supply by 2035 without raising electricity prices. To attain these goals, solar deployment will need to grow by an average of 30 GW annually through 2025 and ramp up to 60 GW per year by 2030 — four times its current deployment rate — to total 1,000 GW of solar deployed by 2035. According to the Solar Futures Study, prepared for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, solar energy could provide 1,600 GW on a zero-carbon grid by 2050 and produce more electricity than consumed in all residential and commercial buildings nationwide.

Preliminary modeling shows that decarbonizing the entire energy system could result in as much as 3,000 GW of solar due to increased electrification. Source: DOEPreliminary modeling shows that decarbonizing the entire energy system could result in as much as 3,000 GW of solar due to increased electrification. Source: DOE

Preliminary modeling shows that decarbonizing the entire U.S. energy system could result in as much as 3,200 GW of solar due to increased electrification of buildings, transportation and industrial energy and production of clean fuels. The solar energy sector is projected to employ 500,000 to 1.5 million people across the U.S. by 2035, and reduced carbon emissions and improved air quality are expected to result in savings of $1.1 trillion to $1.7 trillion, far outweighing the additional costs incurred from transitioning to clean energy.

Explore interactive data relevant to the Solar Futures Study report.

To contact the author of this article, email shimmelstein@globalspec.com