Ten short years ago, solar panels were mere novelties. Today, they’re a dominant force in America’s energy landscape, and poised for even more growth in the years ahead. Coupled with huge advances in wind energy, battery storage, electric vehicles and energy efficiency, it’s getting clearer than ever that moving to a future powered entirely by clean, renewable energy is as feasible at it is necessary.
According to our recent report, Renewables on the Rise, America generates 43 times as much solar now as it did a decade ago — enough to power over 5 million average American homes. Rooftop solar has also grown 28-fold over that time period, as more and more Americans are choosing to power their own homes with renewable energy.
These numbers are certainly encouraging, but we’ve barely scratched the surface of solar energy’s potential. Solar generation still makes up only 1.4 percent of the nation’s electricity mix, despite the fact that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory says we could power the U.S. 100 times over with solar alone.
As solar power has burst onto the scene, it has also attracted formidable opponents. Utilities and fossil fuel interests, including entities funded by the Koch brothers, have been waging a nationwide campaign to attack rooftop solar. At the same time, the Trump administration and many in Congress are pushing pro-fossil, anti-clean energy policies at the federal level.
Despite these challenges, solar’s progress over the last 10 years has us more inspired than ever that we can rapidly move to 100 percent renewable energy before it’s too late. If solar and wind generation grows by 15 percent per year — which is slightly above half of its current growth rate — the U.S. will produce enough electricity to meet 100 percent of our current electricity needs by 2035. We need to maintain that pace, and then go further to reach 100 percent renewable energy transportation, heating and cooling.
At the end of the day, people want a healthy environment, clean air and clean water. They want a livable planet for themselves, their kids and their grandkids. It won’t be easy, and it will take action from all of us, together — but we can get there.