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A return to the Paris Climate Accord could lead to US substantial renewables growth


Biden wants emissions-free power sector by 2035

Study suggests some states are 'not on track'

Planned solar facilities growing in size

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A return by the US to the Paris Climate Accord expected under the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden could give a further boost to renewable and clean energy generation in the country's power markets in order to meet the accord's targets, according to an S&P Global Platts Analytics analyst.

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The Paris Accord, which the Trump administration officially withdrew from on Nov. 4, has greenhouse gas emission "pathways" for countries to follow that call for limiting warming to between 1.5 and 2 degrees C through the reduction of carbon dioxide and other GHGs through the year 2050.

Despite not being part of the accord, 25 US states formed an alliance in 2017 to implement policies that advanced the goals of the Paris Accord.

Even so, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, "few US states with climate commitments are on track to meet the 2025 target or an emission reduction trajectory consistent with the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change average pathway for a 1.5 °C target for 2030."

Those states that have committed to achieving economy-wide GHG emission reductions in line with the Paris Accord, the EDF said in a Dec. 9 report, "will need to put additional policies in place to close the 'emissions gap' between business-as-usual projections and their targets."

These gaps, the EDF said, "are even wider looking ahead to the 2030 reduction levels that could limit warming to 1.5°C, which the states have committed to pursue."

Expanding use of renewables

It is projected that as much as 238 GW more solar and wind will be be needed in the US to meet the Paris Accord's targets..

"The difference in the renewable -- solar and wind -- capacity additions for year 2050 between the reference case forecast and 2 degree scenario forecast exceed 200 GW," said Jahnavi Nadipi, a Platts Analytics North American power markets analyst. "Specifically, solar capacity additions are 128 GW higher than the reference case and wind capacity additions are 110 GW higher," Nadipi said in an email.

In the US, utility-scale wind and solar generation have accounted for more than half of all new capacity added to US grids over the past six years, according to a recent Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study.

Wind generation in the US reached 111 GW installed at the end of the third quarter, up from roughly 9 GW in 2005 and 74 GW in 2015, according to American Wind Energy Association data.

At the end of the second quarter, US utility-scale solar totaled approximately 50 GWdc, according to a joint Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie report. It noted that in 2011, the first GW of utility-scale solar was completed.

"Solar has been growing at a roughly 46% compounded annual growth rate and at that growth rate utility-scale solar will reach 100 GWdc by 2023 and exceed 250 GWdc by 2030," the report said.

Two long-time renewables developers, Terra-Gen and Invenergy, have recently announced, for example, plans for solar facilities with 1.1 GW and 1.3 GW of capacity, respectively.

Biden announced a plan in August to spend $2 trillion over the next four years to escalate the use of clean energy in the electricity, transportation and building sectors, as part of an effort to strengthen infrastructure while tackling climate change.

Biden's plan outlines targets for achieving an emissions-free power sector by 2035.

The EDF study said that New England and the South Atlantic regions are projected to meet the 2025 US Climate Alliance target, but the Mountain West and Midwest regions are projected to meet this target "only under the most pessimistic L-shaped economic recovery scenario."

"In all scenarios, the gaps between projected emissions and the IPCC average pathway for a 1.5°C target for 2030 are much wider as emission reductions expected from current policies begin to level off after 2025," the EDF said.