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USA in transition – how Biden wants to achieve the climate goals

U.S. President Joe Biden wants to shake off the shadow of his predecessor in the fight against climate change and is announcing ambitious goals at the digital climate summit. To achieve these, the energy sector must change quickly. The country already took its first steps in recent years, as satellite images show.

“Economy from above” is a collaboration between WirtschaftsWoche and LiveEO. This is a translation of the original article (written in German by Julian Hei├čler). Access the original article here.

Joe Biden had big plans when he joined 40 heads of state and government for the digital climate summit on Thursday. Just in time for Earth Day, the U.S. president wanted to reestablish the United States as a global leader in the fight against climate change – and impress upon the global community the importance of the task. It is critically important, Biden said, to limit global warming. “This is the decade in which we must make the choices to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis,” the U.S. leader said at the start of the deliberations. “We must act quickly to meet this challenge.”

Biden did not stop at appeals. In the interest of his own credibility, the 78-year-old announced that he would impose stricter climate requirements on his own country than had previously been agreed. For example, the U.S. is to reduce climate-damaging emissions by 50 percent of the 2005 level by the end of the decade – a much more aggressive goal than Biden’s predecessor Barack Obama had set.

To achieve such an ambitious result, the U.S. energy sector must change. And fast. While the share of renewable energy sources in U.S. electricity generation has been steadily increasing for years, it only rose to 21 percent by 2020 despite all the efforts, according to the government’s Energy Information Agency (EIA). The share of natural gas in the U.S. energy mix is twice as high. Experts attribute the fact that U.S. emissions are steadily declining primarily to the increasing departure of coal-fired power, which is, however, being replaced in large part by the – cleaner – burning of gas.

Misae I Project” solar park, Childress, Texas
08.04.2019 (left picture): Fields and meadows still dominate near Childress, Texas.
04/07/2021 (right image): Two years later, the Misae I solar farm can be seen here. It will supply 60,000 homes with electricity from solar energy. It is to be expanded again in a second phase.

This snapshot, however, should not obscure the efforts being made with an eye toward building renewables. Last year alone, enough new solar panels were installed in the U.S. to produce more than 19 million gigawatts of electricity. The new panels accounted for 43 percent of the energy production capacity added last year. This brings the total solar energy capacity in the United States to nearly 98 million gigawatts – enough to power nearly 18 million American homes.

Already, previous expansion has covered huge areas of the U.S. deserts with solar panels, exclusive satellite images from LiveEO show. In 2015, for example, the Solar Star solar farm went online in Rosamund, located north of Los Angeles in California. 1.7 million panels spread over more than 13 square kilometers – it was the largest photovoltaic plant in the world at the time. However, similarly large plants are not only located in California. Huge solar plants now also stretch across the traditional oil state of Texas. 

Wind energy is also on the upswing. According to the EIA, enough new turbines came online last year to generate 23 gigawatts of electricity. A new record. In 2021, wind power’s share of total U.S. energy production is expected to rise above ten percent for the first time.

And the expansion is set to continue. By 2050, the share of renewables will double, the agency predicts. But whether that will be enough to achieve Biden’s goal of a completely CO2-neutral United States in the same year is another question. That’s why the president continues to push the issue. Nearly half of the planned spending in his more than $2 trillion infrastructure package, therefore, will go to projects that support clean energy. It would be a huge shakeup for the United States. After all, the country is currently still the second-largest emitter of climate-damaging gases on the planet.

However, it is one that also offers opportunities. The restructuring of the American energy industry also offers the chance of a boom in the labor market. Already, more than three million Americans work in the renewables sector. However, the Covid crash last year also hit this industry. For the first time since 2015, the sector lost jobs in 2020. Still, it continues to be seen as an opportunity. Most recently, even the United Mine Workers of America union spoke out in favor of the energy transition. It offers its members the best chance of new jobs, according to union boss Cecil Roberts, who also represents numerous coal miners in crisis.

Biden is also getting backing for his plans from the public. After years of skepticism, a large portion of the U.S. population now sees climate change as a problem that affects their lives. In a study by the Pew polling institute, nearly 80 percent of respondents favored prioritizing the development of alternative energy sources. That the government is not doing enough to combat the effects of climate change was still believed by two-thirds. At least that’s something Biden now wants to counter.