From the beginning of his election campaign, Joe Biden made it clear that environmental policy was going to be a priority for his administration. Now that Inauguration day is over and done with, we’re here to break down the implications of Biden’s election for the solar industry.
What is the Biden Climate Plan?
President Biden’s climate agenda broadly focuses on combating climate change through promoting the growth of domestic green jobs and by way of international agreements. The Biden Plan’s five main areas of focus are:
Ensuring that the United States achieves a 100 percent clean energy economy and net-zero emissions no later than 2050
Building climate change-resistant infrastructure throughout the United States
Engaging with the rest of the world to combat climate change
Protecting at-risk communities from the negative health effects caused by major polluters
Supporting the transition of communities that fueled past growth in the energy sector (i.e. areas where fossil fuel power plants have been a major source of employment).
This plan is the most comprehensive and far-reaching climate plan ever proposed by a sitting president. If carried out, it will have a strong impact not only on the environment, but also on the lives of everyday Americans.
While our country’s transition to clean energy is inevitable, the government will need to enact strong clean energy policies to expedite this transition. In 2019, the United States sourced about 62 percent of its electricity from fossil fuels. On the other hand, nuclear and renewable energy, both carbon-free sources, only accounted for 19.6 percent and 17.6 percent of generation respectively.
Progress so far: Executive Orders
President Biden has already issued several executive orders which affirm and support the goals outlined in his plan. Below are a few highlights of these orders (you can read the full summary here):
Establish a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council and a White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council
With this section of the “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad” order, Biden intends to help the federal government address vital environmental justice initiatives. This council will fight to protect Americans in high-risk areas from the adverse effects of pollution and work to ensure that everyone–regardless of race or income–receives the same degree of protection from pollution-related health hazards.
The proposed council acknowledges a problem that policymakers have too often overlooked in the past. It is unclear what sort of powers this council will have, but it is a small step towards ensuring that unjust and inequitable disasters like the Flint, MI Water Crisis are avoided in the future.
Rejoin the Paris accords and build upon its existing framework
This section of the order is a quick reversal of the United State’s policies under President Trump. The United States was the first nation to leave the Paris Agreement in November 2020, but President Biden promised on the campaign trail that the United States would rejoin the agreement shortly after he took office. In doing so, the United States formally committed to meet five-year emissions reduction targets and to invest in the Green Climate Fund, an international initiative dedicated to setting up our global financial sector to tackle climate change.
This step signifies to the rest of the world that we are committed to fighting global climate change and want to be held accountable to our goals. It is uncertain how the United States will build upon the existing framework of the Paris Agreement at this time.
Purchase carbon-pollution free electricity and American-made, clean vehicles for federal agencies
Our federal agencies probably consume more electricity than you’d think! By following through on this executive order, our federal government will both set an example for other state and local governments to follow, as well as replace roughly 260 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh), or 889,970 billion British thermal units (BTUs), of electricity consumption with clean energy.
The second part of this goal–purchasing carbon pollution-free vehicles for federal agencies– is one of the more easily achievable goals outlined in the executive orders. Creating an electric fleet for the federal government would require replacing roughly 645,000 vehicles with electric vehicles. According to the Washington Post, the federal fleet currently drives 4.5 billion miles and uses almost 400 million gallons of gasoline annually. Transitioning this fleet with electrified transportation will substantially reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and also increase the number of electric vehicles in the United States by more than 50 percent.
Importantly, the administration still needs to determine the timeline for this transition.
Create green jobs in construction, manufacturing, engineering, and skilled-trades in order to rebuild American infrastructure.
This commitment is favorable for both our economy and our climate: encouraging job creation within the clean energy sector can help offset possible job loss in the fossil fuel industry and accelerate the American economy’s transition to suit a net-zero future.
The good news is that this change is already well underway – renewable energy employment in wind, solar, and advanced natural gas were the fastest growing sources of employment in the energy sector in 2020, while employment in coal electric generation declined by about 8 percent. We can expect this trend to continue into the future, potentially at an even quicker rate if the Biden administration increases government subsidies for clean energy.
Other highlights of Biden’s executive orders
The United States will conserve at least 30 percent of our lands and oceans by 2030.
The government will assist coal, oil and natural gas, and power plant communities by working to reduce emissions of toxic substances and greenhouse gasses from existing infrastructure.
The Secretary of the Interior will pause entering into new oil and natural gas leases to the extent possible.
The government will create a central office (White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy) to implement and coordinate the administration’s climate agenda.
How will this administration impact the solar industry?
All signs indicate that the Biden administration will support strong growth in the solar industry. However, it’s worth noting that many of the policies outlined in these orders are more about establishing that these initiatives will be policy objectives of the Biden administration, and less so about specific steps. These orders begin to build a framework through which the larger goals will be achieved (i.e net zero by 2050 is a long term goal, and limiting new oil and natural gas leases is a step to achieve this).
President Biden is also taking office following a period of record growth for the solar industry. Since 2010, solar prices have sharply declined while panel technology continues to improve. The number of solar installations in the United States has also increased by more than 2,000 percent in the last decade. As the administration continues to work towards these climate goals, decarbonize our electricity gird, and promote renewable energy development, the solar industry will likely grow at an even greater rate than it has in recent years. Best of all, solar is becoming more and more accessible through community solar projects around the country. Simply put, the outlook for the U.S. solar industry is sunny!
Whether you want to decrease your own carbon footprint or save money on electricity bills, there has never been a better time to go solar! Sign up on the EnergySage Marketplace to see how much you can save with your own solar panel installation.