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White House outlines plan for solar to make up almost half of US electricity by 2050

By midcentury, 45% of electricity in the country could come from solar energy, according to a new government report.

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An ambitious new plan could mean 45% of US electricity comes from solar energy by 2050.

Sutad Watthanakul/EyeEm/Getty Images

The White House on Wednesday published the Solar Futures Study, a new report that details ambitious plans to shift US energy reliance on fossil fuels to solar power. According to the study, 3% of the country's electricity came from solar panels as of 2020. The new plan proposes a dramatic jump to 40% solar energy by 2035 -- and 45% by 2050. 

The report arrives as the US deals with damage from Hurricane Ida that caused over a million people to lose power. Hundreds of thousands of homes still don't have power following the high winds and flooding that first hit Louisiana on Aug. 29. Extreme weather events like these are exacerbated by human-caused climate change.

The study, created by the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, further outlines what would need to happen in order to meet these long term goals. Solar panel usage would have to increase by 30 gigawatts per year on average until 2025, by 60 GW per year from 2025 to 2030 in order to reach 1,000 GW by 2035 and, ultimately, 1,600 GW by 2050.

For reference, there are 1 billion watts in 1 gigawatt. An iPhone charger uses 20 watts; microwaves typically range from about 600 to over 1,000 watts. One gigawatt of power is equivalent to that of 110 million LED bulbs, over 3 million solar panels or 1.3 million horses

A standard American home needs between 20-25 solar panels to run entirely on solar energy. If 1 GW is equal to roughly 3 million solar panels, 1 GW could theoretically power over 100,000 homes. We're going to need a lot of solar panels: enough to cover 0.5% of the land surface area of the contiguous US, according to the report. Many of these will go on roofs, but others could be on "disturbed or contaminated lands unsuitable for other uses."

"The study illuminates the fact that solar, our cheapest and fastest-growing source of clean energy, could produce enough electricity to power all of the homes in the US by 2035 and employ as many as 1.5 million people in the process," Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said in the announcement.

The Solar Futures Study is just one element of the Biden administration's sustainability plan. On his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to rejoin the Paris Climate accord, a multilateral agreement to limit global temperature increases and reduce the impacts of climate change. The administration has also signed executive orders related to the climate crisis and announced plans for half of all new car sales to come from electric vehicles by 2030. 

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