On April 22, 2021, President Biden announced greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution reduction targets for the country. His vision was revealed during a summit on climate that he was holding, which was said to be “part of the President’s focus on building back better in a way that will create millions of good-paying, union jobs, ensure economic competitiveness, advance environmental justice, and improve the health and security of communities across America.” Among the goals laid out was a new target for the U.S. to achieve a 50–52% reduction from 2005 levels in economy-wide net GHG pollution in 2030.
With about a year under the administration’s belt since that announcement, Ali Zaidi, the White House’s deputy national climate advisor, took the stage at the BNEF Summit in New York City on April 19 (Figure 1). His on-stage questioner, Ethan Zindler, head of Americas at BloombergNEF, noted the lofty goals the administration entered office with and asked, “How’s it going?”
“I think it’s going really well,” Zaidi said. To prove his point, Zaidi noted recent growth in renewable energy resources. He said more than 56 million homes are currently powered by “clean electricity” in the U.S. “One out of seven of those electrons [were] put on the grid last year. So, a banner year [for] solar, storage, [and] wind.” Zaidi suggested at least some of the progress was driven by the administration “putting back in place a regulatory construct that makes sense,” and through “investments in our grid, and the power sector, which has been neglected for so long.”
Zaidi noted that progress in the transportation sector has also been “stunning.” He said the president came into office with a goal of getting 500,000 charging stations installed across the country. “We got the money from Congress to do that, and half of the charging stations that are installed in the United States today were actually installed last year. So, that’s steel in the ground—that is irreversible progress. It’s nothing that can be rolled back,” he said.
Concerning “hard-to-decarbonize” industries, such as the cement, asphalt, steel, and aluminum sectors, Zaidi said the administration is getting it arms around the issues and working on solutions. “We’ve now got approaches on how we partner with energy communities, how we elevate environmental justice as a core part of the dialogue, and how we go after the climate-related financial risks we’re seeing in the marketplace and relative to the federal government’s own fiscal position. So, I feel really good about the president’s vision,” he said.
Three Reasons to Be Optimistic
Zaidi suggested the U.S.’s ability to tackle the climate crisis while capitalizing on opportunities for economic growth in clean energy industries has increased under the Biden administration for three reasons. At the top of his list was the bipartisan infrastructure law.
“You’ve got the funding for the poles and the wires. Now, you want to surge on that new generation. You’ve got the hydrogen hubs that we’re going to seed around the country through the bipartisan infrastructure law. Now, we can pair that with the production tax credit that really synergizes with it. We’ve got historic investment in carbon capture and direct air capture in the bipartisan infrastructure law. Now, we can pair it with a tax credit that really lifts that. [We’ve got] funding for the charging infrastructure. Now, we can turbocharge that with the EV [electric vehicle] credit. So, I think, thing one is: the bipartisan infrastructure law actually proves the playbook of if you invest in America, you create jobs, you attract private capital off the sidelines,” Zaidi said.
The second reason Zaidi was optimistic revolves around consumer costs. He said the president had proposed a way to cut consumer costs by $500 per year. “That’s a really big deal,” he said. “That boosts the political economy of action right now.”
Lastly, Zaidi said, true energy security and energy independence comes from “an accelerated path to clean energy.” He said that by making the investments the administration has planned, two million barrels per day of demand would be driven out of the market, “and that’s a really big opportunity for us,” he said.
“For all of those reasons, we’re having conversations with members on the Hill—a number of them—about a reconciliation package that will help us tackle consumer costs [and] boost energy security,” said Zaidi.
Developing U.S.-Based Supply Chains
Zindler alluded to the fact that much of the solar equipment U.S. installers rely upon comes from China, and he suggested U.S.-based manufacturing of these components should be expanded in order to assure needed supplies are available to meet solar energy growth targets. Zaidi agreed that developing greater domestic manufacturing capabilities is important, and said the administration is actively trying to make that happen, not only for solar equipment, but also for other critical materials needed in the power sector.
“Just today, the Department of Energy, which has really rebooted its loan program—[Secretary of Energy] Jennifer Granholm [and Loan Programs Office Director] Jigar Shah have built an incredible pipeline of deals there—announced a project around graphite. Earlier this year, the president invoked the Defense Production Act to help with rare earth magnets. We’re going to be trying to grow our lithium capacity in the Salton Sea of California,” Zaidi said. “We’ve got to shore up those supply chains, here and with our allies and partners,” he added.
To close the session, Zaidi tried to assure attendees of the event that investing in clean energy opportunities was a safe bet. “We’ve got a president in the Oval Office who ran on climate—got 81 million votes of a mandate for it. That is not changing. It’s not changing this month. It’s not changing this year. It’s going to be steady. And I think it should be the thing that drives people to have confidence in investing in the pace and scale of transformation we need in clean energy,” he said.
—Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).