When I first heard Al Gore mention that he wants to see America be 100% clean electricity within 10 years I thought he was out of his mind. I believe the guy has good intentions (even if he is getting rich off of his efforts) but I also believe he is a politician, not an engineer or an economist. However, after reading Repower America's analysis, I might be willing to lend a modicum of credibility to this theory. Now don't get me wrong, I still don't believe it's possible, but not from a technical standpoint. I don't think it will happen because utilities just have too much invested in their pre-existing coal/natural gas infrastructure to simply "throw it away" within ten years. And utilities/Big Coal/Big Natural Gas have too much power in Washington. I think a more realistic goal would be 100% clean electricity from this point on. But let's look through their analysis anyway, because I really like what they've done and I want to give them credit.
The first thing that jumped out at me that actually made me say, "Well, that would make it much more realistic" is that they included "Efficiency" under 100% clean electricity. In fact, "Efficiency" makes up the biggest piece of their pie at 28%. While technically, Efficiency isn't a way of producing clean electricity, it is a way of not-producing clean electricity, I believe they are right to include this in their analysis, because it would be impossible (yes, I know nothing is impossible...) to get to 100% without it. Personally, I really like the Efficiency strategy because:
- That's what blog.mapawatt is all about!
- As I've stated before, Negawatt's (not producing power) are even better than Clean Megawatts
- It is relatively easy to achieve. All we need is willpower and education!
So obviously Efficiency it the most important part of their strategy!
Quick side note: I'm only going to look at their Scenario A. I will ignore Scenario B because it contains Carbon Capture and Storage. And you know how I feel about that.
Aside from Efficiency improvements, their other analysis is pretty straightforward. They have "Wind" making up the biggest chunk of clean energy generation which will probably be accurate.
However, I would like them to give a little more potential to "Nuclear". I know, I know, this isn't technically renewable and there is the whole "waste" issue. But I've worked in a Nuclear plant. I've seen the reactors up close and I believe in the merits of the technology. The public really just needs to be better educated on how safe it really is. Most people don't even know that coal plants emit more radiation into the atmosphere than a Nuclear plant does! Can you believe that? Don't worry, this will be a future post!
I just can't understand why there isn't a Nuclear Power marketing group that isn't running ads about this every day. Well, actually I can believe it because every utility that operates a Nuclear plant operates a Coal plant, and they don't want you to realize how harmful Coal is! But I digress......
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, the real challenge to 100% power in 10 years is not technical. The technical challenge is a big one, but after the Manhattan project (FYI: Did you know that at one point in the atomic bomb development Oak Ridge consumed 10% of the Nation's electricity!) and putting a man on the moon, it's one we can overcome. The real challenge is political. How do you get the majority of Americans to wield more power than a few "Coal Big Wigs" who control some Senators/Congressmen in Washington? Also, keep in mind that Utilities are not necessarily Evil (I know you didn't want to hear that. Everybody loves a villain!). Utilities have a job. That job is to produce reliable power and generate a nice ROI for their investors.
So our challenge is:
- Educating the public on the virtues of renewable generation
- Demanding the politicians follow our desire
- Getting Utilities on our side so they are rewarded, not punished, for generating clean energy
When this happens, 100% clean electricity within 10 years will be a reality!