The Biden administration set lofty goals for the U.S. to rely on 100% clean electricity by 2035 and reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, which resulted in legislation funneling billions to consumers and businesses alike to invest in clean energy technology.
Three bills passed in 2022 contain clean energy funding: the Inflation Reduction Act, the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. As agencies like the National Institute of Standards and Technology as well as the Department of Energy (DOE) dole out funding, the bills contain multiple tax incentives and credits to encourage businesses to invest in clean energy technologies, which are primarily solar panels and wind turbines.
Clean energy is a major economic opportunity, DOE Secretary Jennifer Granholm said during a session at the global tech conference CES in Las Vegas.
"Somebody has to be making all those products -- wind turbines, solar panels -- all the technology related to clean energy and how we deploy it and use it," said Granholm, who believes this will be a multi-trillion dollar industry. "That is a huge jobs creator."
Granholm said that they envision homes and commercial buildings becoming more embedded with solar- and wind energy-generating technologies as the technologies advance and costs become lower.
Building and deploying new clean energy technologies
Part of the funding included in the clean energy bills focuses on research and development of new technologies -- an area the DOE is particularly interested in.
Granholm said her department wants to bring down clean energy technology costs by making the technologies smaller and able to embed directly into homes and commercial buildings. For example, the DOE is working on embedding solar cells into bendable materials and glass, making the technology easier to install in buildings rather than large, bulky solar panels.
"Instead of the solar panels, you might have solar shingles on your house. You might have solar-generating cells embedded in the blinds, embedded in the siding of your home, embedded in your windows. Every inch of your house could become a solar generation plant," she said.
Earlier this month, Granholm said clothing retailer Patagonia announced the company planned to install solar windows in their corporate headquarters.
Going smaller isn't just the future for solar, Granholm said. The DOE is also researching bladeless technology for wind turbines and "walls that can have wind technology embedded in them."
"We are focusing on accelerating these small deployments, whether they're at homes, businesses, schools, et cetera," she said.
Electric vehicles also get a significant funding boost from the clean energy bills. The DOE is funding research into next-generation battery technologies that rely less on critical minerals, which are primarily mined in foreign countries like China. China also dominates in electric vehicle and battery production, Granholm said.
Following passage of the clean energy bills in 2022, Granholm said 79 companies announced plans to build U.S.-based battery manufacturing facilities because of incentives included in the bills.
"We are creating a whole industry in the U.S. to be able to put people to work and become energy independent," she said.
Ensuring sustainability, security of clean energy technology
When developing clean energy technologies, it's important to ensure the process for building those technologies is sustainable, said Ed Brzytwa, vice president of international trade at the Consumer Technology Association. Brzytwa spoke during a session at CES.
Jennifer GranholmSecretary, U.S. Department of Energy
For example, mining the critical minerals needed for electric vehicles is an intensive process that can cause significant environmental harm if not handled in a sustainable way for both the environment and laborers.
Brzytwa said it's crucial to stay focused on those environmental protections. Otherwise the government loses the "moral case" for making electric vehicles and other clean energy technologies.
The race to develop clean energy technologies is also a national security issue as countries around the globe compete to localize production of semiconductor chips, batteries and clean energy technologies, he said.
"This race for clean technologies is the defining race for the great powers all around the world, for our generation and [for] generations to come," Brzytwa said.
Makenzie Holland is a news writer covering big tech and federal regulation. Prior to joining TechTarget, she was a general reporter for the Wilmington StarNews and a crime and education reporter at the Wabash Plain Dealer.