Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Repowering America?

A renewable portfolio to save the economy

Repower America shows how we can achieve 100 percent of our electricity from renewable sources in the next 10 years.


Creators News Service

Part of President Barack Obama's economic plan is to create a federal renewable portfolio standard that would require 25 percent of American electricity to be derived from renewable sources by 2025. It would create hundreds of thousands of new jobs in renewable energy, but some say it is not enough.

Entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens announced an interesting energy plan last July, suggesting that a $1 trillion investment in wind farms along the Midwest wind corridor would help such farms generate almost half the country's electricity. We could divert natural gas, which currently is used along with coal for generating power, to fuel heavy vehicles. Pickens' plan would cut our dependence on foreign oil and lower our country's greenhouse gas emissions.

Sierra Club spokesman Dave Hamilton agrees: "That is extremely aggressive ... but it's in the right direction. It's a good thing we have an oilman saying we can't drill our way out of this problem."

But even that may not be enough to lower the level of carbon in the atmosphere from its current 385 parts per million to the safe level of 350 ppm or break out from dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels. Instead, suggests Nobel laureate Al Gore, we need to "repower America with 100 percent clean electricity within 10 years."

We could repower America by making our buildings more energy efficient, greatly increasing renewable-energy generation, constructing a unified national smart grid, and transitioning to clean and affordable electric cars. Repowering America would create new industries with high-paying jobs and would lower energy bills. It also would create energy independence, with clean domestic sources of energy and less foreign oil. Most importantly, repowering our country would address climate change in a meaningful way by making a solid impact at the scope that scientists suggest to curb climate change.

How can this small miracle be accomplished? On its Web site, Repower America suggests:

Improve energy efficiency in our buildings. To make the most out of the energy we currently produce, America needs a national efficiency upgrade. Make new buildings more efficient; upgrade old buildings to save energy; and update our appliances and equipment to use less energy and perform the same or more functions than they do now.

Generate 100 percent of America's electricity from truly clean carbon-free sources. Renewable-energy generation technologies—such as solar thermal, photovoltaics, wind, geothermal and biomass—have been adding clean, reliable power to the grid for more than a decade. This includes solar and geothermal plants in the Southwest, biomass programs in the Northeast and Southeast, and wind farms through the Midwest corridor. It is now time to dramatically ramp up the contribution of renewables to the energy mix.

Create a unified national smart grid. We need to "modernize transmission infrastructure so that clean electricity generated anywhere in America can power homes and businesses across the nation; (b)uild national electricity 'interstates' that move power quickly and cheaply to where it is needed; (and) (e)stablish local smart grids that buy and sell power from households and support clean plug-in cars."

Create a plug-in fleet. Clean plug-in passenger vehicles reduce dependence on foreign oil; provide transportation for as little as $1 per equivalent gallon; create price certainty, with renewable energy sources that are abundant and free; and help solve the climate crisis. A plug-in fleet also would contribute to energy storage on the grid. And the transition would revitalize the American auto industry.

Already there are new ways of harnessing renewable energy. They are being developed every day. A recent project involves laying cylinders on the beds of streams and oceans to harness water flow. Researchers discovered that a flow of 3 knots produces 51 watts of power. If many cylinders were layered on the seabed over a 1-by-1.5-kilometer area that is the height of an average house, a flow of 3 knots would generate enough power for about 100,000 homes. Even a small stack of cylinders could power an anchored ship or a lighthouse.

Biomass plants, which generate energy from bagged household garbage, are other potential sources of renewable energy that have not been factored into the energy mix yet. Biomass plants, such as Taylor Biomass Energy in New York, have the potential to turn municipal waste into a source of electricity through a process that produces minimal pollution. Biomass plants also can be set up to produce ethanol to fuel cars.

Let's explore these new clean and green technologies to replace unsustainable power sources, such as coal, oil and nuclear.

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