U.S. utility companies are taking the lead in transitioning to renewable energy sources, surpassing state mandates and setting ambitious goals, according to a recent study published in the scientific journal Climatic Change.
The paper, co-authored by Matthew Burgess, a fellow at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and assistant professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, suggests that while some feel governmental policies are progressing slowly, private-sector initiatives are driving a faster transition. Technological advancements, cost reductions, the shift from coal to natural gas, and the rise of renewables are cited as key factors propelling this change.
Typically, states implement energy policies, such as Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and Clean Energy Standards (CES), to regulate the adoption of renewable energy by utility companies. The study examined three decades of data on utility companies' renewable goals and projected timelines for full decarbonization. Surprisingly, the findings indicate that companies are outpacing state policies and are poised to meet or exceed the goals set by many states.
The authors predict that if these utility companies achieve their renewable energy targets, the U.S. electrical grid could be entirely powered by renewable energy by 2060. The study also explores the inclusion of nuclear energy as a renewable source, suggesting that this milestone might be reached even earlier, by 2050.
“In 18 of 26 states with current RPS or CES and 9 of 11 states with expired RPS or CES, utilities' generation and targets meet, nearly meet, or exceed state targets,” the paper states. The study emphasizes that including nuclear energy, unlike most RPS and CES policies, could accelerate the decarbonization process.
Furthermore, the research highlights that many utility companies are committed to decarbonizing their entire portfolios, even in states lacking explicit renewable energy policies or goals. For instance, Southern Company has set decarbonization goals despite operating in states like Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama, which lack portfolio standards.
While differences emerged between politically categorized red and blue states, with blue states generally having stricter renewable policies, the majority of states were found to be on track to decarbonize in alignment with the goals set by utility companies.
er state nor utility company goals are currently aligned with the Biden administration's ambitious objective, announced in April, to eliminate all fossil fuels from the entire U.S. energy sector by 2035. The study acknowledges that achieving this specific goal is a challenging task that requires concerted efforts from both public and private sectors.
“There's a lot of really interesting stuff happening in the private sector,” notes Burgess. “The private sector creates interesting decarbonization connections across states, and it has interesting connections to the policy space.” The study underscores the dynamic relationship between private initiatives and policy considerations in driving the nation towards a sustainable energy future.