Rapid improvements in technology and plummeting prices for clean energy suggest that America has only begun to tap its vast clean energy potential.
Nearly every segment of the clean energy market is experiencing rapid price declines. According to a study by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), generation costs for onshore wind and solar PV have fallen between 3 percent and 16 percent every year from 2010 to 2019. The cost of utility-scale solar PV electricity fell 82 percent from 2010 to 2019, while the cost for onshore wind electricity fell by 39 percent in the same time period.
Renewable energy is only expected to get cheaper. Experts predict that the cost of solar PV utility systems will fall by 20 percent from 2020 to 2025, and solar PV is expected to be among the cheapest sources of power available by 2050. BloombergNEF predicts that the cost of utility-scale lithium-ion batteries will fall by 52 percent between 2018 and 2030, and that the U.S. will exceed 100 GW of installed battery storage by 2040, an almost 100-fold increase from current capacity.
Technology advances are also making renewable energy technologies more efficient and effective. In 2007, the highest-capacity wind turbine in the world was 6 MW. Last year, General Electric deployed the first prototype of its massive “Haliade-X” wind turbine, which has a capacity of 12 MW, and is considered the most powerful offshore wind turbine in the world with the ability to power up to 16,000 homes.
New technologies that reduce energy consumption are becoming increasingly popular, such as LED lighting, which uses up to 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent light bulbs. By 2027, the Department of Energy estimates LEDs could save 348 terawatt-hours of electricity, which is equivalent to the annual electrical output of 44 large power plants.
America’s renewable energy resources are enough to power the nation several times over. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the United States has the technical potential to meet its current electricity needs more than 75 times over with solar energy and more than 10 times over with wind energy. The technologies needed to harness and apply renewable energy are advancing rapidly. And researchers from a wide variety of academic and governmental institutions have developed a variety of scenarios suggesting renewable energy can meet all or nearly all of our society’s needs.