Solar to Dominate US Power Generation Capacity with 10x Growth by 2050

Wind energy deployment is expected to see a 5x growth


Wind energy deployment in the U.S. is expected to reach 770 GW and solar 1,090 GW by 2050, representing 5x and 10x increases over current levels, respectively, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Wind and solar are forecasted to contribute between 55% and 85% of total generation in 2050 across various scenarios.

The ninth edition of the annual Standard Scenarios, published by NREL, offers a comprehensive outlook on the future of the U.S. electricity sector, focusing on 53 forward-looking scenarios designed to capture a spectrum of possibilities.

These scenarios, simulated through the Regional Energy Deployment System (ReEDS) model, provide insights into the evolution of the utility-scale electricity sector in the contiguous United States.

The 2023 Standard Scenarios paint a dynamic picture of the U.S. electricity sector’s future, emphasizing the pivotal role of renewables in achieving decarbonization goals.

As wind and solar witness unprecedented growth and fossil generators adapt to new roles, the sector’s landscape is expected to undergo a transformative shift towards sustainability.

Illustrating these trends, Figure ES-1 depicts the generation and capacity projections for three scenarios: the mid-case, 95% net decarbonization by 2050, and 100% net decarbonization by 2035.

Wind and solar dominate, and the role of fossil generators evolves with decarbonization goals.

US Electricity Sector

Figure ES-2 showcases annual generation by technology class, emphasizing the significant growth of wind and solar over the coming decades.

Generation standard scnearios

The report highlighted that policymakers and industry stakeholders can leverage these insights to shape strategies that promote renewable energy integration, reduce emissions, and foster a resilient and sustainable electricity sector for the years to come.

Despite the rise of renewables, natural gas capacity continues to expand. In a mid-case scenario, it increases by 200 GW through 2050. However, with a 95% net decarbonization goal, this increase is limited to 130 GW.

Fossil generators without carbon capture witness a diminished role in providing generation but play a crucial role in providing firm capacity. By 2050, uncontrolled fossil generators contribute only 14% of total generation in the mid-case but provide 47% of total firm capacity.

Under current policies, nascent technologies, such as natural gas with carbon capture and storage (CCS), coal with CCS, bioenergy with CCS, hydrogen combustion turbines, and small modular nuclear reactors, play a limited role.

However, they are expected to gain significance in decarbonized futures, contributing up to 22% of total generation and 35% of firm capacity in scenarios with breakthroughs or emissions constraints.

Emissions Reduction

U.S. electricity sector emissions are likely to experience a notable decrease through the 2030s, with an 81% reduction in the mid-case by 2035 relative to 2005 levels.

Tax credits persist through 2050 for most scenarios without strict decarbonization policies, indicating the longevity of clean electricity incentives.

In the mid-case, achieving 95% net decarbonization by 2050 incurs a 0.5% increase in present-value bulk electric sector costs. Meanwhile, reaching 100% net decarbonization by 2035 results in a 14% cost increase.

Figure ES-3 displays annual CO2-equivalent emissions, highlighting the decline in emissions under various scenarios.

Electricity sector CO2 Emissions

The U.S. installed 6.5 GWdc of solar power project capacity in the third quarter (Q3) of 2023, a 35% year-over-year (YoY) increase and a 1% rise from the previous quarter, according to the U.S. Solar Market Insight Q4 2023 report by Wood Mackenzie and Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts that solar power will emerge as the primary driver of electricity generation growth in 2024 and 2025, with the addition of 36 GW and 43 GW of new solar capacity, respectively.