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USA Market | DOE sets out blueprint for a zero-carbon grid

Solar panels

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has released the Solar Futures Study detailing the significant role solar will play in supporting the nation’s power grid reach zero carbon.

The study shows that by 2035, solar energy has the potential to power 40% of the nation’s electricity, drive deep decarbonization of the grid, and employ as many as 1.5 million people. The study’s called for significant deployment of clean energy sources, underscoring the Biden Administration’s efforts to tackle the climate crisis, and rapidly increase access to renewable power throughout the country.

In 2020, the US installed a record amount of solar (15GW) bringing its total 76GW or 3% of the current electricity supply. But by 2035, the country would need to quadruple its yearly solar capacity additions and provide 1000GW of power. By 2050, solar energy could provide 1600GW on a zero-carbon grid. Decarbonizing the entire energy system could result in as much as 3,000GW of solar by 2050 due to increased electrification from other sectors. Wind and solar combined will provide 75% of electricity by 2035 and 90% by 2050, transforming the electricity system.

The study lays out the blueprint for achieving this milestone that would require strong decarbonization policies coupled with a massive deployment of renewable energy sources, large-scale electrification, and grid modernization.

It cautioned that maintaining stability of a grid powered mainly by renewable energy requires careful power system planning to ensure the reliability of the network. The resilience value of solar can be increased through energy storage, load flexibility and inverter-based resource capabilities for grid services.

The deployment of energy storage enables more flexibility and resilience, growing from 30GW to nearly 400GW in 2035 and 1700GW in 2050. Advanced tools like grid-forming inverters, forecasting, and microgrids will also play a role in maintaining the reliability and performance a renewable-dominant grid.

Demand flexibility plays a critical role by providing firm capacity and reducing the cost of decarbonization. It amends consumption patterns of end uses, such as electric vehicles, to better utilize solar generation. In the Decarb+E scenario (the most ambitious scenario modelled that includes decarbonization with electrification), demand flexibility provides 80–120GW of firm capacity by 2050 and reduces decarbonization costs by about 10%.


Projected deployment of storage, transmission, and load flexibility, under the Solar Futures scenarios

DOE sets out blueprint for a zero-carbon grid

Source: DOE


Wayne Muncaster, VP for North America at GridBeyond, commented:

“The report demonstrates the scale of the challenge facing power systems. Given to vital role that demand flexibility is already playing in several markets, it is disappointing that this was only modelled in the most ambitious of scenarios. Not only does demand response and flexibility support higher integration of renewables onto the system, but they  also provide businesses with a much-needed revenue streams, enabling further investments in energy efficiency, behind the meter storage and generation assets.

“By taking a holistic approach to energy management and combining it with technology designed to optimize participation in demand response and grid services, a magnitude of opportunities open up for businesses to support the transition to net zero.”


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