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Clinton plan to power U.S. homes with renewable energy in 10 years is doable

Lucas Mearian | Aug. 4, 2015
Supplying all the America's power with solar requires a relatively small amount of real estate.

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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton last week spelled out her renewable energy policy plans: Have more than half a billion solar panels installed throughout the nation in her first term and generate enough renewable energy to power every home in America.

While those goals may sound overly ambitious, experts said they're not.

Clinton's plan would boost wind, solar, and other renewables so that they'd provide 33% of America's electricity by 2027. The proposal includes increasing U.S. installed solar capacity from 21 gigawatts (GW) today to 140GW by the end of 2020 -- a seven-fold increase.

"Over the next few months I'll lay out a comprehensive agenda to meet the climate challenge and make America the clean energy superpower," Clinton said. "We're on the cusp of a new era."

Is it achievable?

"In short, yes, but with a few caveats," Shayle Kann, senior vice president at GTM Research, wrote in a response after Clinton's announcement.

Clinton's target can be reached if the U.S. solar market grows at an annual rate of 32% from 2017-2020. But that will happen only do that if current tax incentives remains in place -- they're currently scheduled to expire -- and if other programs set in place by the Obama administration continue without being cut.

Clinton's renewable policy plans are part of a larger effort to fight climate change. Most other presidential candidates have yet to announce concrete plans for increasing renewable energy capacity. One that has is former Maryland governor and Democratic contender Martin O'Malley, who called for the end of fossil fuel use and a full clean energy economy by 2050.

America, O'Malley said last month, "should be 100% powered by clean energy, supported by millions of new jobs."

"I would set a national, cross-sector Renewable Electricity Standard so our nation is powered by 100% clean energy by 2050, and a national goal of doubling energy efficiency within 15 years," O'Malley said. "Many states like California and Maryland are already leading the way forward for the United States."

Although solar growth has historically been concentrated in rooftop panels, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects utility-scale solar capacity will increase by 90% by the end of 2016, with more than half of this new capacity being built in California.

Clinton's main Democratic rival at the moment, Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent, has not yet released his renewable energy plans.

Today, the U.S. gets only about 0.4% of its power from photovoltaic (solar) power installations. Traditional power generation still provides 85% of the country's energy needs: 39% comes from coal, 27% from natural gas and 19% from nuclear, according to the EIA.


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