Until 2007, coal accounted for more than half of the U.S. electricity generation. By 2019, its share had dropped to 23%. Natural gas that mostly replaced it saw its share rise from 20% in 2007 to 39% by 2019. But replacing coal with natural gas does not lead to zero-emission electricity. This is where solar and wind come in. Their share in electricity generation capacity is rising and in 2021, they will account for about 70% of planned new utility-scale capacity.
In addition to replacing coal and natural gas with renewables, the U.S. also needs to generate much more electricity. This is because new cars and buildings are increasingly using electricity instead of fossil fuels. For perspective, the transportation sector currently accounts for 28% of U.S. energy consumption. Gasoline alone accounts for half of energy use in the transportation sector.
Carbon-free electricity target will be challenging to achieve without a clear plan for transmission, storage systems, and financing. But these technical issues are not likely to get news headlines or retweets. They could also get mired in litigation. If history is any guide, Republicans will likely take back the House in 2020. The reason is that the President’s party tends to suffer an electoral setback in midterm elections. Thus after 2022, Biden’s climate tasks will become tougher. Political wisdom lies in engaging with these though issues as soon as possible before partisan fights tale control of the policy process. This is among the most important litmus tests for President Biden’s legislative acumen.