US Renewables: a fragmented horizon

US Renewables: a fragmented horizon

Emilio Fabio Torsello
In the last few days, the Supreme Court blocked the Clean Power Plan, Obama's flagship energy proposal and a cornerstone of COP21. But big cities like the Big Apple are holding the energy sustainability banner high

Experts from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) have no doubt that the total use of renewables in the United States electricity sector this year will increase by 8.1% and, overall, by 3.6%. In addition, last December, Congress approved an extension and modification to the so-called “tax credit” to facilitate new wind and solar power plants between now and 2019. However, policy has recently become divided on the Clean Power Plan, so the United States is trying to develop, for individual states or cities, with decisions capable of having a positive impact on the environment.

However, the EIA expects a minimal impact from these tax breaks, since - at least for this year - no new wind power plants are planned on US soil. For next year, this will depend instead on the stage of development of new wind farm projects for the exploitation of wind power, these new projects are planned but the work is not yet underway.

For solar power, however, improvements will be more substantial: in 2017, a 42% increase will be recorded compared to 2016 levels, with estimated growth of nearly 128 GWh/day. Among the most important states for the development of plants that produce energy from the sun are Nevada, North Carolina, Texas and Georgia which, together with California, it is estimated will be able to generate at least 80% of the additional capacity for 2016 and 2017.

Policy divided on the Clean Power Plan: a slap for Obama

In general, experts estimate that renewables can produce 14% of the electricity required in the United States in 2016. Of this figure, 5.2% will come from wind, 0.8% from solar power and the rest from biomass power plants. But the issue of renewables is as undecided as ever in the United States, since at the beginning of February the Supreme Court rejected the Clean Power Plan, which had been approved last August by the US Environmental Protection Agency, and which was expected to increase and further strengthen the development of alternative energy in the States. The Plan involved a 32% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions emitted by electricity generating power plants by 2030, and was one of the cornerstones of COP21. 5 of the 9 Supreme Court judges decided to uphold the appeal submitted by 27 American states.

New York's example and the goal for 2050

However, as national policy is in disagreement, individual cities and regions are setting an example, such as New York, which plans to achieve 50% clean energy from renewables by 2030 and has developed an action plan to reach the goal: the so-called “50 by 30 goal,” a policy document drawn up by the Department of Public Service. In detail, the goals include the desire to achieve “a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, compared to 1990 levels; 50% of electricity generated from renewable sources and a 23% reduction in the energy consumption of buildings. This could place the state of NYC on track for an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050”. The report, however, also highlights a fact that is often left out by those who see renewables as a green rallying cry and not a systemic element of the energy economy of countries and cities: “Clean energy and renewable sources,” write researchers, “are not only necessary to reduce carbon emissions: they are the future of the electricity industry and will be a key component of the economic development strategy.”

On renewables but in no particular order

As in NY, other states have also accelerated on the path to renewables. Hawaii, for example, aims at 100% energy from renewable sources by 2045, reaching 30% by 2020 and 70% by 2040. In this way, it would be the first green state in the US. Following Hawaii are: Vermont - which aims at 75% energy from renewable sources by 2032, California - which plans to increase its energy efficiency by 50% by 2030, and Oregon, which is looking to reach 50% renewable energy by 2040.