Building and installing enough solar panels to generate up to 45% of the country’s energy needs will strain manufacturers and the energy industry, increasing the demand for materials like aluminum, silicon, steel and glass. The industry will also need to find and train tens of thousands of workers quickly. Some worker groups have said that in the rush to build solar farms quickly, developers often hire lower paid non-union workers rather than the union members Mr Biden frequently defends.
Challenges such as trade disputes could also complicate the push towards solar power. China dominates the solar panel supply chain, and the administration recently began blocking imports related to China’s Xinjiang region over concerns over the use of forced labor. While many solar companies say they are working to move away from materials made in Xinjiang, energy experts say the import ban could slow construction of solar projects across the United States in the near term.
Still, energy analysts have said it would be impossible for Mr Biden to meet his climate goals without a sharp increase in the use of solar energy. “No matter how you slice it, you need solar deployments to double or quadruple in the short term,” said Michelle Davis, senior analyst at Wood Mackenzie, an energy research and consulting firm. “Supply chain constraints are certainly on everyone’s mind. “
Administration officials pointed to the changes made by state and local authorities as an example of how the country could begin to move towards renewables faster. California regulators, for example, are changing the state building code to require solar power and batteries in new buildings.
Another great area of interest for administration is greater use of batteries to store energy generated by solar panels and wind turbines for use at night or when the wind is not blowing. The cost of batteries has fallen but remains too high for a rapid transition to renewables and electric cars, according to many analysts.
For some solar industry officials, the Department of Energy’s report should help focus minds on what’s possible, even if lawmakers haven’t worked out the details.
“In essence, the DOE is saying America needs a ton more solar power, not less, and we need it today, not tomorrow,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar and Storage Association, which represents the state’s solar developers with by far the most solar installations. “This simple call to action should guide every policy making decision, from city councils to legislatures and regulators across the country.”
Brad plumer contributed reports.