Two items of good news from the US this week. Good because they confirm that the Obama Administration is serious about its intention to move to renewable sources for energy, and particularly good in the boost they give to wind generation. Â
President Obama gave an unequivocal speech to a wind tower construction facility in Iowa on Wednesday.Â He’s not buying the notion that climate change must be put to one side while the economic crisis is addressed (John Key take note):
“Now, the choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy.Â The choice we face is between prosperity and decline. We can remain the world’s leading importer of oil, or we can become the world’s leading exporter of clean energy.Â We can allow climate change to wreak unnatural havoc across the landscape, or we can create jobs working to prevent its worst effects. We can hand over the jobs of the 21st century to our competitors, or we can confront what countries in Europe and Asia have already recognized as both a challenge and an opportunity:Â The nation that leads the world in creating new energy sources will be the nation that leads the 21st-century global economy…”
He’s positive about the employment that comes with renewable energy:
Â “… the bulk of our efforts must focus on unleashing a new, clean-energy economy that will begin to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, will cut our carbon pollution by about 80 percent by 2050, and create millions of new jobs right here in America…”
He’s fully aware of the enormous potential of energy efficiency measures:
“I want everybody to think about this.Â Over the last several decades, the rest of the country, we used 50 percent more energy; California remained flat, used the same amount, even though that they were growing just as fast as the rest of the country – because they were more energy efficient.Â They put in some good policy early on that assured that they weren’t wasting energy.Â Now, if California can do it, then the whole country can do it.Â Iowa can do it…”
He’s initiating moves to get things under way:
“And today I’m announcing that my administration is taking another historic step.Â Through the Department of Interior, we are establishing a program to authorize – for the very first time – the leasing of federal waters for projects to generate electricity from wind as well as from ocean currents and other renewable sources.Â And this will open the door to major investments in offshore clean energy.Â For example, there is enormous interest in wind projects off the coasts of New Jersey and Delaware, and today’s announcement will enable these projects to move forward.”
Â And he’s very positive about the potential of wind power:
“It’s estimated that if we fully pursue our potential for wind energy on land and offshore, wind can generate as much as 20 percent of our electricity by 2030 and create a quarter-million jobs in the process – 250,000 jobs in the process, jobs that pay well and provide good benefits.Â It’s a win-win:Â It’s good for the environment; it’s great for the economy….”
And crystal clear about the purpose of a market-based cap on CO2:
“What this does is it makes wind power more economical, makes solar power more economical.Â Clean energy all becomes more economical.Â And by closing the carbon loophole through this kind of market-based cap, we can address in a systematic way all the facets of the energy crisis:Â We lower our dependence on foreign oil, we reduce our use of fossil fuels, we promote new industries right here in America.Â We set up the right incentives so that everybody is moving in the same direction towards energy independence.”
And as if that wasn’t enough for one week, here’s Jon Wellinghoff, appointed last month as chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He was making remarks at a U.S. Energy Association forum on Thursday. (The source of the report requires subs for access, but Joseph Romm has reproduced a good deal of it and these quotes are from his website.)
He has interesting comments on baseload, which critics of renewable energy often talk about with a knowledgeable air.
Wellinghoff said renewables like wind, solar and biomass will provide enough energy to meet baseload capacity and future energy demands. Nuclear and coal plants are too expensive, he added.
“I think baseload capacity is going to become an anachronism,” he said. “Baseload capacity really used to only mean in an economic dispatch, which you dispatch first, what would be the cheapest thing to do. Well, ultimately wind’s going to be the cheapest thing to do, so you’ll dispatch that first.”He added, “People talk about, ‘Oh, we need baseload.’ It’s like people saying we need more computing power, we need mainframes. We don’t need mainframes, we have distributed computing.”
The technology for renewable energies has come far enough to allow his vision to move forward, he said. For instance, there are systems now available for concentrated solar plants that can provide 15 hours of storage.
Â “What you have to do, is you have to be able to shape it,” he added. “And if you can shape wind and you can effectively get capacity available for you for all your loads.
“So if you can shape your renewables, you don’t need fossil fuel or nuclear plants to run all the time. And, in fact, most plants running all the time in your system are an impediment because they’re very inflexible. You can’t ramp up and ramp down a nuclear plant. And if you have instead the ability to ramp up and ramp down loads in ways that can shape the entire system, then the old concept of baseload becomes an anachronism.”
He went on to discuss the importance of a smart digital grid in moving renewable energy.
“We are going to have to go to a smart grid to get to this point I’m talking about. But if we don’t go to that digital grid, we’re not going to be able to move these renewables, anyway. So it’s all going to be an integral part of operating that grid efficiently.”
He sees no need for further nuclear development:
There’s enough renewable energy to meet energy demand, Wellinghoff said. “There’s 500 to 700 gigawatts of developable wind throughout the Midwest, all the way to Texas. There’s probably another 200 to 300 gigawatts in Montana and Wyoming that can go West.”
He also cited tremendous solar power in the Southwest and hydrokinetic and biomass energy, and said the United States can reduce energy usage by 50 percent. “You combine all those things together … I think we have great resources in this country, and we just need to start using them,” he said.
And he tackled the question of wind’s intermittency:
Problems with unsteady power generation from wind will be overcome, he said.
“That’s exactly what all the load response will do, the load response will provide that leveling ability, number one,” he said. “Number two, if you have wide interconnections across the entire interconnect, you’re going to have a lot of diversity with that wind. Not all the wind is going to stop at once. You’ll have some of it stop, some of it start, and all of that diversity is going to help you, as well.”
The only depressing feature of these reports is the contrast they provide with our bumbling politicians who are still circling round at the starting gates.