Today’s U.S. power sector emits large quantities of greenhouse gases and relies heavily on carbon-based fuels with volatile and rising prices. The current system is unsustainable, both economically and environmentally. Electricity generation accounts for approximately one-third of America’s global warming pollution. Scientists urgently warn such pollution must be sharply reduced to avert the most serious consequences of climate change. Meanwhile, viable, non-polluting generation alternatives exist to deliver reliable, cost-effective power to meet America’s needs.
Generate 100% of U.S. electricity from truly clean carbon-free sources. Renewable energy generation technologies like 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 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. And the circumstances are just right:
Technology maturity: The renewable power technologies featured in the Alliance’s Repower America plan are in the 2nd, 3rd or 4th generation of development and come with the associated reliability and enhancements mature technology offers.
No fuel costs: At a time when fossil fuel prices are volatile and will inevitably rise, shifting to power sources with free and limitless fuel inputs makes sense.
Investor support: During the past few years, clean energy has been among the fastest growing sectors in the venture capital and investment banking worlds: in 2008 global investment in clean energy totaled $155 billion. Even during the global financial crisis, the investment growth in clean energy was 5% over the previous year in 2007. The year before, the increase in investment was a whopping 59%.1
Utility understanding: Virtually every state now has experience in integrating renewable electricity into its energy mix. Twenty-eight states now have renewable energy portfolio standards.
Resource availability: Whether it is solar, wind or geothermal, each of these renewable resource types could on its own theoretically meet all of the nation’s power demands, now and well into the future.
Materials availability: There are no limiting material constraints with any of the renewable generation technologies comprising the Repower America scenarios. Key inputs are steel, concrete and glass. Wind turbine blades also use carbon fiber or fiber glass and PV cells rely on specialized materials, none of which will be limited at the levels and timeframe within the Repower America plan.
Workforce availability: Manufacturing of components and construction of the renewable power plants themselves are skills that can be learned and are easily transferable from other sectors. In Pennsylvania, former steel workers are now building wind turbine components. In Iowa, former appliance manufacturers are doing the same. In California and New Jersey, former construction workers are now installing rooftop solar PV. And clean energy programs are already emerging at colleges and trade schools around the nation.
Growth histories and trajectories: U.S. installed capacities of solar photovoltaic and wind power have been growing rapidly; the U.S. wind energy industry increased the nation’s total wind power generating capacity by 50% in 2008, to over 25,300 MW.2 Solar thermal has rapidly expanded in recent years; and the geothermal heat pump industry has seen double digit growth over the past five years. In 2008, total shipments of geothermal heat pumps surged more than 40 percent.3
Existing, proven renewable power technologies rely on fuels that are free and limitless. They emit no CO2. They eliminate the uncertainty of volatile fossil fuel prices. And, they’re a promising engine of job creation: a $100 billion investment in a clean energy economy over two years would create 2 million new jobs with a significant portion of these jobs helping to revive struggling construction and manufacturing sectors.4
How We Get There
Accelerate the ramp-up of clean, renewable electricity sources through new policies and increased private and public investment in technologies that work. These technologies already exist and have been expanding, but effective policies must be implemented to unleash their potential.
Key Sources of Energy in a Repowered America
Wind Power: Our capacity is growing. Last year, wind power provided 42% of all the new generating capacity added in the U.S. For the fourth consecutive year, wind power was the second-largest new resource added to the U.S. electrical grid. The US is the world leader in wind electricity generation, since the end of 2008 when we passed Germany.5
Solar Thermal Power: Concentrated solar thermal power systems, also known as solar thermal power, covering a parcel of land fewer than 100 miles on one side in the Southwest could theoretically supply 100% of America’s electricity needs.6 A proven technology just beginning to scale up in the U.S., solar thermal power already produces enough electricity for about 100,000 homes. Large-scale projects by eight different companies are underway with major utilities to power 10 times that many homes in the next three years. Industry engineers project that plants put into operation after 2013 – and perhaps sooner – will come equipped with 6-8 hours of energy storage, allowing them to continue to provide power after the sun goes down.
Solar Photovoltaics: Photovoltaic (PV) technology converts sunlight directly into electricity. Solar PV can be mounted on rooftops, integrated into roof tiles, or placed in empty fields, and can produce electricity even on cloudy days. Germany is a great testament to PV generation potential under cloudy skies: Germany’s solar resources (see map below) are similar to those of Alaska’s, one of the U.S.’s least desirable solar regions. Yet, Germany currently has more than three times the installed solar capacity of the entire U.S. due to its supportive policy framework. At the end of 2008, Germany had 5,308 MW in cumulative capacity compared to the U.S. at 1,547 MW.7 With vastly better solar resources in the U.S. and continued innovations and price reductions in solar technologies, the domestic photovoltaic industry has already begun to take off. There are currently thousands of companies developing, producing, installing, and maintaining PV systems in the U.S.
Geothermal Power: The United States is already the world leader in geothermal electricity generation, producing enough electricity from geothermal systems to power approximately 1.5 million homes. Industry experts project that geothermal development can expand to provide 15-30 times as much power over the next few decades due to recent advances in enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) that can harness heat energy stored up to 10km below the surface. According to an MIT study, 100,000 megawatts of electricity could be installed by 2050 with EGS technology that could power over 70 million homes. In October 2009, the Department of Energy awarded up to $338 million in Recovery Act funding for exploration and development of new geothermal fields and research into advanced geothermal technologies. The grants will support 123 projects in 39 states.8 These projects tap into the massive amount of recoverable heat energy in America that is equivalent to about 2,000 years worth of 2005 US electricity consumption.9
Other Renewable Generation: Other renewable generation includes biomass power, which can encompass many sources of carbon-free electricity like agricultural or wood residues and municipal waste. Advanced hydropower technologies are also emerging that harness the energy from waves, currents, and tides.
United Nations Environment Program. “Why Clean Energy Public Investment Makes Economic Sense – The Evidence Base” July 2009. http://sefi.unep.org/fileadmin/media/sefalliance/docs/specialised_research/Final_Version_Economic_Impact_Report_20090720.pdf
American Wind Energy Association. Factsheet, “2008: Another Record Year for Wind Energy Installations.” 2009. http://www.awea.org/pubs/factsheets/Market_Update_Factsheet.pdf
Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration. “Geothermal Heat Pump Manufacturing Activities 2008.” Oct 2009. http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/solar.renewables/page/ghpsurvey/geothermalrpt.pdf
Roger Bezdek. “Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency: Economic Drivers for the 21st Century.” Prepared by Management Information Services for the American Solar Energy Society. 2007. (Note: figure specific to renewable electricity)
Wiser, Ryan and Bolinger, Mark. U.S. Department of Energy – Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. “2008 Wind Technologies Market Report.” July 2009. http://www1.eere.energy.gov/windandhydro/pdfs/46026.pdf
Based on CSP resource potential analysis from NREL in ASES, “Tackling Climate Change in the US: Potential Carbon Emissions Reductions from Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by 2030.” 2007. http://www.ases.org/climatechange
Solar Energy Industry Association. “US Solar Industry Year in Review 2008.” http://www.seia.org/galleries/pdf/2008_Year_in_Review-small.pdf p.11
U.S. Department of Energy “Department of Energy Awards $338 Million to Accelerate Domestic Geothermal Energy” October 29, 2009. http://www.energy.gov/8233.htm
Massachusetts Institute of Technology “The Future of Geothermal Energy” 2006. http://geothermal.inel.gov/publications/future_of_geothermal_energy.pdf p.31
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