The Biden plan to build a clean energy future

18 November 2020

US president-elect Joe Biden has set out his plans, under the slogan ‘Build Back Better’, to reverse the efforts of his predecessor and set the USA back on a path aimed at achieving a wide range of social and industrial reforms, among them net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. He has stated his intention to bring the USA back into the Paris agreement as soon as possible.

Biden’s plan reveals several measures of importance to the power generation industry. The following is a digest of those measures.

Biden intends to make a $2 trillion accelerated investment, with a plan to deploy those resources over his first term, setting an ‘irreversible course’ to meet the ambitious climate progress that science demands.

The Biden’ plan includes:

  • Far-reaching investments in infrastructure, including electricity generation and grids
  • In the power sector – move to generate clean, electricity to achieve a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 
  • Innovation – drive dramatic cost reductions in critical clean energy technologies, including battery storage, negative emissions technologies, renewable hydrogen, and advanced nuclear power, ensure that those new technologies are made in the USA, and rapidly commercialise them.

Building a modern infrastructure

  • Redevelop old power plants and industrial facilities and other assets and transform them into new economic hubs
  • Make major public investments in automobile infrastructure, including 500 000 electric vehicle charging stations. These investments are a key part of Biden’s commitment to reinvent the American transportation system. 
  • Accelerate research on battery technology and support the development of domestic production capabilities. Accelerate R&D with a focus on developing the domestic supply chain for electric vehicles and as a complement to technologies like solar and wind.
  • Set a goal that all new American-built buses be zero-emissions by 2030, helping to achieve a net-zero emissions future by establishing a clean energy regime in transport.

Clean electric power production

Mr Biden believes that transforming the USA’s electricity sector and electrifying an increasing share of the economy represents the biggest job creation and economic opportunity engine of the 21st century. 

He intends to reform and extend the tax incentives known to generate energy efficiency and develop innovative financing mechanisms that leverage private sector dollars to maximise investment in the clean energy revolution; and establish a technology-neutral Energy Efficiency and Clean Electricity Standard (EECES) for utilities and grid operators. 

To build the next generation of electric grid transmission and distribution, Biden will prioritise repowering of existing lines with new technology. He will take advantage of existing rights-of-way and cut red tape to promote faster and easier permitting. 

He will support research investments and tax incentives for technology that captures carbon and then permanently sequesters or utilises captured carbon.

He also wants to ensure that the market can access green hydrogen at the same cost as conventional hydrogen within a decade.

A major focus will be an increase in federal procurement, amounting to $400 billion in his first term, to purchase the key clean energy inputs like batteries and electric vehicle. The plan is to accelerate R&D investment on a huge scale focusing on strategic research areas like clean energy, clean transportation, clean industrial processes, and clean materials over the next four years. 

As part of this effort, Biden will create a new Advanced Research Projects Agency on Climate, a cross-agency to target affordable, game-changing technologies to help the USA achieve its 100% clean energy target:

  • Grid-scale storage at one-tenth the cost of lithium-ion batteries
  • Advanced nuclear reactors, that are smaller, safer, and more efficient at half the construction cost of today’s reactors
  • Production of carbon-free hydrogen at a lower cost than hydrogen from shale gas through innovation in technologies like next generation electrolysers
  • Capturing carbon dioxide through direct air capture systems and retrofits to existing industrial and power plant exhausts, followed by permanently sequestering it deep underground or using it to make other products
  • Accelerate innovation in supply-chain resilience by investing in research to bolster and build critical clean energy supply chains in the USA, addressing issues like reliance on rare earth minerals.

Environmental justice

Mr Biden is much exercised by issues of environmental and economic justice. He intends to create a data-driven Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool to identify disadvantaged communities and ensure that the Administration prioritises environmental justice issues and holds polluters accountable. Biden intends to overhaul and update existing programmes at the White House, the Department of Justice, and the Environmental Protection Agency to meet these aims.

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