The future of solar looks bright under Biden Administration
Joe Biden is going to have to face many challenges when he enters office: the coronavirus pandemic, record-high unemployment rates, and extreme political divides. But he also has to face something that has largely been ignored these past four years - climate change.
Biden’s climate plan, dubbed the “Clean Energy Revolution”, is the most progressive climate plan held by any president. And it doesn’t seem to be all for show. Biden has acted as a sort of Captain America, assembling a team of Climate Avengers to help undo the environmental harm of the last four years.
And he’s going to need all of the help he can get to fulfill his promise of a carbon-free electricity grid by 2035. In this article, we’ll outline some of Joe Biden’s Cabinet picks and how they can help advance solar energy and a clean power vision.
Joe Biden’s call for carbon-free power
Joe Biden’s climate plan includes a lot of information on what the incoming administration wants to accomplish. The plan includes cleaning up transportation, implementing stricter energy efficiency standards, and taking on fossil fuel giants for the damage they’ve caused.
But the most important goal outlined in the Biden climate plan for the solar industry is reaching a carbon-free power sector by 2035.
Right now, about 62% of electricity in the United States comes from fossil fuels and only about 37% comes from carbon-free sources like renewables and nuclear power. That means over the next 15 years, the Biden Administration is planning to triple the amount of carbon-free electricity generated in the country.
That’s a tall order, but it’s not impossible - especially with the proposed $2 trillion that Biden will put towards the clean energy switch, as well as the group of people Biden has appointed to his administration.
The climate crusaders of the Biden Administration
As time has passed, Joe Biden himself has taken a strong stance on climate policy. He went from having a lukewarm climate plan during the primaries to now having the most progressive climate plan of any president in history.
Biden also says he will sign a series of executive orders during the first days of his presidency to right some of President Trump’s environmental wrongs - including revoking the Keystone XL pipeline permit and re-entering the Paris climate accord.
But Joe Biden won’t be reaching carbon-free status all on his own. He’s surrounded himself with an impressive group of individuals who will be great assets to the environmental movement and solar industry.
White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy
Some of the most exciting news to come from the Biden Administration is the announcement of the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, which will help coordinate with various groups across the Executive Branch to help reach Biden’s 2035 carbon-free grid and 2050 net-zero economy.
This ‘Climate Cabinet’ comes with a stacked roster of climate professionals.
Gina McCarthy, National Climate Advisor
Former EPA administrator and current president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), McCarthy played a large part in passing the Clean Power Plan in 2015, which was the first piece of legislation to impose national carbon pollution limits on power plants.
Maggie Thomas, Chief of Staff
Thomas was previously the climate advisor for Governor Jay Inslee and Senator Elizabeth Warren, both of whom are known for their ambitious climate policy goals.
Sonia Aggarwall, Senior Advisor for Climate Policy and Innovation
Aggarwall is the co-founder and VP of the research firm Energy Innovation, which provides analysis for policymakers to aid them in making effective clean energy policy.
David Hayes, Special Assistant to the President for Climate Policy
Hayes previously worked for the Interior Department under the Obama Administration and as a partner of the Environment, Land, and Resources department at Latham & Watkins International Law Firm.
Jahi Wise, Senior Advisor for Climate Policy and Finance
Wise served as the director of the non-profit organization Coalition for Green Capital, which focuses on establishing green banks.
Cecilia Martinez, Senior Director for Environmental Justice
Martinez is the co-founder and executive director at the Center for Earth, Energy, and Democracy (CEED). CEED focuses on including social justice and democracy within environmental and energy policy.
White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy’s role
The members of the White House climate office will be helping other sectors of the Executive Branch make their policy decisions and frameworks with climate in mind.
For instance, the climate office will offer assistance to incoming Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigeig in creating reliable and resilient transportation infrastructure that keeps carbon out of the atmosphere. They may also advise the new Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Marcia Fudge, on how to plan solar-powered, energy efficient government housing.
The formation of this team shows that Biden is serious about creating a clean energy future and that climate change will be brought to the table across all different sectors of government.
Additional Biden Cabinet picks
Joe Biden didn’t just stop at his White House climate office. Some of his other top Cabinet choices are known supporters of solar energy and promoting a clean economy.
Michael Regan, Lead of the Environmental Protection Agency
Regan has worked in the environmental sector for over 20 years, including 9 years in the EPA’s air quality program. While working for the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Regan created the department's first environmental justice advisory committee and pushed for further remediation of coal ash sites.
Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Energy
Granholm is best known for her time as Governor of Michigan, where she pulled the state out of the 2008 financial crisis and prevented the collapse of the state’s auto industry by securing $1.35 billion in federal funding for the production of electric vehicles (EVs) and batteries. She’s also made it clear she believes that low-carbon solutions are the best way to ensure a stable future for America.
Biden’s climate crusaders to shake up the EPA and DOE
It may seem obvious to have people who believe in climate change lead the EPA and the Department of Energy, but believe it or not, it hasn’t been that way for the last four years.
Both Trump’s head of the EPA and Secretary of Energy have spent their time at the helm trying to repeal Obama-era environmental protections and help protect the coal industry.
But these aren’t the only Cabinet picks Biden made that look good for the future of clean energy. For instance, Biden’s pick for Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen, the person in charge of financial, economic, and tax policy, is a believer in climate change, as well. In fact, not only does Yellen believe in it - she’s expressed that there is an undeniable connection between climate change and the economy.
Plus, with Congresswoman Deb Halland, a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal stepping into the role of Secretary of Interior, it’s pretty likely we won’t have to hear about any more fossil fuel drilling taking place on federal land. Congresswoman Halland will be the first-ever Native American Cabinet secretary.
How will Biden’s Administration help the solar industry?
It’s clear that Biden has chosen people who support clean energy, which is a big step up from some members of the previous administration. And now, there is a whole new group of people dedicated to making sure climate is considered in all of the policy making within the Executive Branch.
But what does all of this mean for the solar industry?
At the very least, it shows that Joe Biden is very serious about reaching his 2035 carbon-free grid goal. He wants to reach it, and he’s already going all in, in terms of securing the backup for it.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has outlined some key policy points that the Biden Administration should put in place to not only reach their climate goals, but also advance the solar industry. These include:
- Federal clean energy standard
- Direct payment provision and extension of the ITC
- Federal research and development
Federal clean energy standard
One of the most important policy pieces for advancing solar is a federal carbon policy that outlines country-wide clean energy standards.
These types of standards have already proven to be successful for the solar industry on the state level. For example, New Jersey and Massachusetts, which aren’t particularly sunny states, have booming solar industries because of their renewable portfolio standards.
It’s likely that the same effect would take place across the nation if a federal renewable portfolio standard was put into place. The pressure to meet federal emission standards would encourage utilities and states to potentially offer incentives and initiatives in order to expand solar and meet their federal goals.
Creating federal clean energy standards would take the power of all of the members of the White House climate office and the Cabinet. Luckily, the members are diverse in their experience, so it’s likely that they could come up with an effective set of requirements that would end up boosting the solar industry.
Direct payment provision and extension of the ITC
SEIA has also recommended implementing a direct payment provision for the federal solar tax credit as tax equity markets dry up in the wake of the pandemic.
A direct payment provision would provide those who install solar with a direct cash payment instead of a tax credit. An upfront cash payment would encourage more people to go solar, as it would directly decrease the cost of installation, instead of recouping the incentive on your taxes later.
SEIA has also recommended creating a tax credit for energy storage. This would further promote the growth of solar energy, which is essential for reaching a carbon-free grid.
Janet Yellen will be in charge of all things taxes as Treasury Secretary, so she would have the power to put a direct payment provision or an energy storage tax credit into place.
This is why it is so exciting that the person to hold the title of Treasury Secretary believes climate change and the economy are linked. She will recognize that clean energy policy is the key to a healthy economy, so her approving a direct payment provision or an energy storage ITC isn’t out of the question.
Federal research and development
Research and development is key to making solar energy efficient and keeping deployment costs low. Luckily, the incoming Secretary of Energy is a supporter of clean energy.
Jennifer Granholm not only spent her time as Governor of Michigan securing federal funds to expand electric vehicle manufacturing, she also passed tax credits to make solar manufacturing possible in the state.
Granholm’s track record leads us to believe that she will continue to promote innovation in the clean energy space, as she believes these technologies are crucial for America’s future. We can probably expect her to devote funds to energy storage specifically, as energy storage is essential to getting to a carbon-free grid.
If solar and storage research is properly funded, prices could drop and technology could improve, which is a win-win for the entire solar industry.
Biden to build back better with solar
Overall, the Biden Administration will be great for the solar industry. His impressive group of climate-conscious Cabinet picks shows his dedication to the cause of climate change. Every facet of his Cabinet seems as though they will consider climate in their decisions in their quest to build America back better.
What’s especially promising is that Biden has been campaigning on a carbon-free grid, which is one of the best-case scenarios for the solar industry. Solar is necessary to create 100% carbon free electricity. This alone should lead to policy that grows and expands solar across the nation.
Plus, with Joe Biden’s Cabinet, solar may extend into legislation that it would never have been included in before. The Department of Transportation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Agriculture will now be advised by a group of climate experts, potentially expanding the reach of the solar industry to these sectors.
The solar industry has faced a lot of challenges over the past four years, but every sign seems to point to it finally looking up.
- Joe Biden faces many challenges stepping into the role of President, but he isn’t shying away from addressing climate change.
- One of Biden’s campaign promises is a carbon-free grid by 2035. If the promise is kept, we could see huge growth in the solar industry.
- Biden has shown he’s serious about clean energy and his climate goals by resurrecting the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, which will advise other Cabinet members on how to address climate change.
- SEIA has outlined policies the Biden Administration can put into place in order to meet their climate plan goals, as well as advance solar energy. They include creating a federal carbon emission standard, passing a direct payment provision for the solar tax credit, and funding solar and storage research.
Author: Catherine Lane | SolarReviews Blog Author
Catherine is a researcher and content specialist at SolarReviews. She has strong interests in issues related to climate and sustainability which led her to pursue a degree in environmental science at Ramapo College of New Jersey.