UC Berkeley Study Highlights Solar Potential of Western U.S.

Scientists from U.C. Berkeley have found that solar power could supply a third of the electricity needs in the Western United States if the grid parity goals of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) are met by 2050. The report, released the Berkeley Energy and Resources Group and the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, argues that the DOE’s current goals of bringing solar power to a comparable cost with conventional energy sources would lead to a displacement of other fuels such as natural gas and nuclear.

The study found that if public policies such as carbon caps and pricing are put in place, and if investment in solar technology continues, it could become a much more crucial part of the region’s energy portfolio. This would help the country reduce its carbon emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change.

“Given strategic long-term planning and research and policy support, the increase in electricity costs can be contained as we reduce emissions,” Dan Kammen, study leader and Distinguished Professor of Energy, said in a news release. “Saving the planet may be possible at only a modest cost.”

The DOE has a program called the SunShot Initiative, the goal of which is to bring the cost of solar power down to the equivalent per-kilowatt-hour rate of non-renewable sources by 2020. Doing so would lead to a major shift in the energy infrastructure toward cleaner technologies, but at the moment this is being done through the use of government subsidies that incentivize homeowners and businesses to make use of California solar energy. Taxing carbon emissions and capping output could make the price of fossil fuels reflect the true environmental and economic costs of these sources, thereby making solar power more attractive.