So with Al Gore calling for 100% renewable energy in 10 years a lot of people might wonder where the heck we are going to get all that energy from (if we are not using coal/oil/gas). Well my friends take a gander. What you see below is where we are going to get all that energy.
As you can see America has some amazing wind resources. Most of the east coast, the great lakes, and the entire middle of the country are EXCELLENT wind resources. Many places in the west and even some places in the south west are commercially feasible sources. The upper mid-west has been called the Saudi Arabia of wind. There is enough wind going through there on a daily basis to power much of this country (if not all of it on some days). The real problem however is not space (anyone who has been there knows there is space), and it is not NIMBY land owners (the ranchers and farmers would love to get extra revenue from their lands) the problem is transmission.
There are few major cities in that area, and even fewer heavy duty low loss transmission lines. To tap this excellent resource the government would have to invest in transmission lines, or make it easy for private companies to do so. We have the technology, we have the turbines, we even have the market forces to make it happen. What we don’t have is a policy that encourages it. American could certainly use the jobs however…
America also has a superb solar resource. Almost every single square inch of this country is suitable for home scale solar. Only the darkest parts of Alaska are unsuitable for home scale solar (even then some solar thermal would work). However if we are talking major solar projects, utility scale in the 100′s of megawatts, then we are most likely talking concentrated PV, and concentrated solar thermal. That means the south west.
Several entire states rate as very plentiful solar areas. Again the problem is not space, or Not In My Back Yard activists (the desert is largely federal land, and empty), it is transmission, and lack of effective policy. Again we have the technology, this would not need a large research push, we have everything we need. We know how to build the collectors, we know how to build the transmission lines, we simply need to do it. A policy that mandates renewable energy sources would mean that the billions of dollars we currently ship off to the middle east, and other politically unstable areas, would instead be going to create jobs here in the united states.
Geothermal is the forgotten player in the renewable energy game. But as you can see almost every single square inch of this country is suitable for home scale geothermal heat extraction. That means that if you wanted (and could afford to do so) you could almost certainly heat your home fuel free from the ground. However if you are really interested in large scale geothermal you would head west, and some places in the upper east, and even a patch or two in Texas/Louisiana. What is not shown on this map is that Hawaii could be the hydrogen production capital of the world if it simply used its ample geothermal energy (cough most active volcano on earth cough) to make hydrogen from sea water. It could also use the geothermal energy is has under it to power itself, making it the only energy self sufficient state (not to mention Hawaii has excellent solar and wind resources as well). Geothermal may be a little lacking in technology, but with the right encouragement from the government it could become an excellent base load generator, again it would need investment in transmission.
Most people when they think of renewable energy do not think of biomass. Biomass, to put it simply, is anything that grows that you can burn. This includes things like left over farm waste, switch grass, wood chips from logging, sugar cane waste and things like municipal yard wastes. It also includes things like pig shit, cow shit, and maybe even human shit. When you get a lot of poo together you can digest it using bacteria and then burn the resulting methane gas. Biomass is great because you can store it up and burn it when you need it.
As you can see there are plenty of places all over this nation that produce a lot of biomass, and this map does not include the potential for human/pig/cow/chicken waste gas creation. With a little rail transport, and a couple of storage areas we would be all set. Biomass is one of the easiest to implement technology because when it comes right down to it, its just burning stuff.
Say it’s ten years from now and we have followed Al Gores excellent suggestion and most of our country is powered by wind and solar with geothermal base load backup in areas that can sustain it. This works well because whenever it’s not windy in one place it is windy some place else, and our high tech transmission system (that we built) can route the power around. However what if it’s a calm day in a lot of places, and maybe the sun is only shinning in a couple places, and we need a little boost, well thats when we fire up the quick start biomass plants and burn a couple hundred tonnes of old corn waste and pig shit gas. Tada! Renewable energy powered country, screw you oil barons.
But wait you say, isn’t burning stuff dirty and going to cause more global warming? Well lucky for us biomass is carbon neutral. All the carbon put into the air by burning the plant waste, is the same carbon the plants sucked up, so you are just recycling the carbon already in the air. Some people even claim that biomass, if done right, can be carbon negative, that is you suck a little carbon out of the air in each grow/harvest/burn cycle. But this has yet to be conclusively proven (at least in my opinion).
As far as air pollution goes, there are several biomass plants in Europe that are sparkling clean, and use a particulate trap to make sure the only things that enter the air meet strict regulations. Here is a video of how some German scientists are using a similar approach to prove that wind/solar/biomass can provide all of their countries power power.
So there you have it, with a couple hundred billion dollars, the creation of a couple hundred thousand American jobs, and a little rethinking of how we run this nations energy grid we could be 100% carbon neutral using only 4 simple technologies. Of course this would be EVEN easier if we had mandates for more efficient electric cars, more efficient construction standards, and more efficient rules for energy use of commercial products, but hey when has America ever done thing the easy way.
Easy or hard, this solution will work. It will work with technology we have on the shelves today. We do not need to wait 50 years for the hydrogen economy to get here, we don’t need to do more studies, we don’t need to wait for anything. What we need is strong government policies, and a large investment in American prosperity in the form of jobs and domestic spending. I