The Solar+ Decade: Roadmap for Building the Solar+ Economy
Over the last decade, the U.S. solar industry experienced an average annual growth rate of more than 50%. Installed solar capacity now exceeds 130 GWdc across more than 3 million systems nationwide, compared to less than 2 GW and 100,000 systems at the end of 2009. But despite this incredible growth, solar accounts for about 4% of all electricity generation today.
In May 2019, SEIA convened more than 100 leaders from across the solar and solar + storage industry to build a long-term vision for the clean energy economy. SEIA articulated an ambitious goal of radical market transformation, including branding the 2020s the Solar+ Decade and solar + storage reaching 20% of electricity generation in the U.S.
In the three years since this Roadmap was first published, the U.S. economy, and the energy sector in particular, has experienced historic changes. Increased urgency to tackle climate change and cut carbon emissions, the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the passage of the most transformative federal clean energy policy in history have all left their mark on the clean energy economy.
The combination of all these intersecting factors has only increased the potential for solar and storage growth. As a result, in September 2021, SEIA announced a new target for the Solar+ Decade: for solar to reach 30% of all U.S. electricity generation by 2030. In May 2022, we reconvened our members and industry stakeholders to revisit the Solar+ Decade Vision and discuss meaningful actions in the short, medium and long term that will be necessary to achieving our ambitious goals.
Then, in late July 2022, the very future of the U.S. energy economy was transformed when Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which included long-term extensions of the investment tax credit (ITC), new standards for workforce development, investments in domestic manufacturing of clean energy products, a standalone tax credit for energy storage, and much more.
This historic policy achievement offers an opportunity to double down on the vision for reaching 30% by 2030. The IRA is not a silver bullet solution that will solve all of the many challenges facing solar and storage businesses in America, and the transformational growth it enables will only be possible through concerted efforts to remove market barriers, scale up projects responsibly, and defend and expand the industry’s hard-won victories.
Our ambitions involve nothing less than a radical transformation of the U.S. energy sector fueled by dramatic growth for solar and energy storage, both of which will be leading technologies in our clean energy future.
Solar offers a solution to some of our most pressing climate challenges and will play the primary role in America’s new energy mix. This industry roadmap serves as a galvanizing force to align us in our shared vision for the next decade and set a clear path to overcome barriers and make the most of the opportunities before us.
What 20% by 2030 will look like:
- The U.S. solar industry will be a 125 gigawatt (GWdc) annual market by 2030, up from 19 GWdc in 2019
- Solar will represent the largest source of new power generation annually
- 850 GWdc of solar will be installed by the end of 2030, or 930 GWdc if overall electricity load increases by 10% due to electrification
- $120 billion will be invested in solar development each year
- Solar installations will need to grow annually by roughly 17.4% over the next ten years
- Solar will be installed on roughly 17 million rooftops
- Solar will employ a growing workforce of more than 1 million Americans. The solar workforce and the consumers we serve will reflect the diversity of our nation
- Solar will be responsible for reducing more than 700 million metric tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions annually by 2030, or roughly 35 percent of all electric sector GHG emissions
- Increases in solar deployment will have an even greater impact as the industry joins a collaborative effort toward the “electrification of everything.”
- Solar growth will be supported by a 50 GW domestic manufacturing base and a robust U.S. supply chain across all system components
- Solar will enhance America’s energy and national security through diversification of energy resources, strengthening our energy infrastructure, providing resiliency to homes and businesses and the overall grid, powering military bases and other means
What It Will Take
To reach our 30% by 2030 goal, the industry must pursue policies that facilitate solar deployment and incorporate other technologies and stakeholders. It is incumbent upon SEIA and our allies to create a shared clean energy vision and write a new story for U.S. energy in the 2020s.
In addition to policy drivers that open markets and create new demand, the industry is entering a new era of growth that will be defined by the factors that restrict growth and create risk for businesses. To reach the peak of our potential, we must take responsibility for our exponental growth and proactively address the current and future barriers that will impeded our progress.
Meeting this target will require more than just public appetite for solar. Costs will need to decline across all market segments by nearly 50 percent and annual deployment will need to increase substantially. Solar will need to replace retiring capacity, primarily coal and increasingly older natural gas units, over the course of the decade. And as we increase our market share of both existing and new load, we will face external headwinds from well-funded and powerful competition.
SEIA must take bold steps to put solar on the trajectory to meeting ambitious goals for U.S. energy generation, job creation, economic development and climate action.
During the May 2022 Strategy Summit, stakeholders and industry leaders discussed the vast universe of challenges and opportunities facing clean energy businesses in the coming decade, and sought to prioritize the actions that would have the greatest impact in the short, medium and long term. Through this work, a series of key themes and core priorities were identified. This Roadmap explores a wider universe of areas that will be critical to achieving the 30% goal, while the factors highlighted here represent an attempt to rally the industry and our allies around certain core efforts.
Key Topical Priorities
Though the universe of issues the industry must address is vast, business leaders have coalesced around 5 core areas that are especially pivotal to scaling up from 4% of generation to 30%.
- Enacting smart, effective state-level policies. State legislative and regulatory decisions will have enormous impact on where solar and storage can be deployed, the compensation customers receive, and more. SEIA will continue fighting hard to ensure the rules and regulations governing energy buildout in the U.S. are conducive to competitive solar and storage businesses.
- Streamlining permitting, interconnection, and transmission processes while bolstering community engagement. There are many intertwining and complex factors that must be considered as clean energy scales. Ensuring that siting and permitting processes are clear, transparent, and not overly burdensome for developers, while keeping community engagement and support top of mind, will be paramount for the industry moving forward.
- Scaling a diverse workforce. To reach our 2030 goals, the industry will need to hire more than 800,000 new workers by the end of the decade. Creating sustainable and scalable workforce development strategies that prioritize diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice will be critical.
- Fostering a robust domestic supply chain and a life-cycle view of manufacturing. Both the IRA and President Biden’s use of the Defense Production Act provide highly valuable tools for increasing domestic production of goods for the solar and clean energy supply chains. Ensuring these tools are maximized and the promise of a sustainable American clean energy manufacturing renaissance is realized will be a core priority for the industry in the near term.
- Strategic advocacy and engagement on building codes & product standards. For customers to take full advantage of a growing portfolio of distributed energy resources, and for large-scale solar and storage projects to flourish, the industry must increase its attention and engagement to codes and standards to bring down costs and ensure a high standard of product quality.
In addition to topical priorities that spanned a wide variety of issues and aspects of the energy economy, the industry identified three essential themes that will define the Solar+ Decade’s success.
Building Political Power
The successful nationwide advocacy campaigns that resulted in President Biden’s emergency supply chain declaration and passage of the IRA demonstrated the importance and impact of political organizing, fostering relationships with government leaders, and committing to a long-term strategy. To address any of the issues described in this Roadmap, the solar and storage industries must continue to expand our influence, invest in political engagement at higher levels, and develop long-term plans to advance our interests.
Top-down Reforms & Policy Standardization
The clean energy industry has spent valuable resources and time fighting too many battles at once, with competing states and jurisdictions adopting inconsistent policies to address common challenges. Piecemeal solutions to market access and grid reform will only serve to slow down the clean energy transition. The industry will be better served seeking holistic, top-down strategies that help standardize and simplify regulatory structures.
Long-term Business Certainty
The “solarcoaster” of the last several years, including cycles of tariffs and trade wars, waxing and waning tax incentives, and state-level regulations that require constant updating or expansion has stifled solar and storage growth. To increase access to low-cost capital and ensure stable growth, businesses need a policy environment that is predictable over the long term. While the multi-year tax incentives passed in the IRA are a major piece of this puzzle, work remains on a variety of fronts to create long-term certainty and policy durability.