This afternoon I was fortunate to get into a talk by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Secretary Salazar discussed the energy future of the U.S. and the role that public lands will play in clean energy production and carbon capture. The talk was broken up into three main parts: renewables, carbon capture, and adaptation.
I found the first part of the talk on the use of renewables in the U.S. the most interesting. Salazar devotes the majority of his discussion on renewables to wind and solar power. It is mentioned that the U.S. has enough wind power potential to provide more electricity than is currently consumed in the U.S. today. Of course, producing 100% of our electricity from wind alone is not a great idea and against the whole concept of diversifying our electricity generation sources. It would be more likely that the U.S. provide a substantial chunk of our electricity from wind power, and 20% is the goal Salazar points to. In addition, solar power is stated to have great potential in certain parts of the country. Salazar mentions that the U.S. needs to look into using renewables, including on public lands. However, I was really unclear on how the Department of the Interior was going to pursue this avenue, as I believe this would be a contentious issue, as many people would be against the thought of putting wind turbines and solar panels in national parks or near national monuments. If the U.S. is seriously devoted to using renewables for energy production it is going to require much more work in this area.
Along the same lines, Salazar mentions renewables, such as offshore wind farms, as a possibility that needs to be investigated. This raises another issue that Salazar only touches on a little, but that I believe is more important. If the U.S. is to have a large portion of its electricity production from renewable energy sources, this is going to require the transportation of electricity from the location where the electricity is produced to the locations where it is consumed. This is particularly interesting for wind and solar power. If the majority of wind power is produced in the Great Plains or at offshore wind farms this is going to require the transmission of electricity long distances to the cities and regions that consume it. Keep in mind here that we are talking about producing 20% of all electricity from wind power. This is going to require a significant amount of electricity transmission, which would require an overhaul of the current transmission infrastructure and substantial upgrades to ensure that the electricity is delivered reliably. Salazar only mentions that an upgrade in the transmission grid is necessary, but does not adequately describe the feasibility and financial costs of such an upgrade. It is not possible to discuss the prospect of wind and solar power providing a substantial fraction of electricity production in the U.S. without the necessary discussion of electricity transmission. More attention needs to be paid to the viability of long-distance electricity transmission when talking about the potential of renewable energy sources in the U.S.
During the talk, Salazar announced that it is expected that over 5300 MW of new electricity generation from wind and solar power to come online by the end of 2010 (almost a year from now!). This is the equivalent of fifteen coal power plants generating approximately 350 MW each. This statement is very encouraging, but towards the end of his talk Salazar mentions that there is a great need for a clean energy economy and climate legislation in the U.S. There is much work to do if renewables energy sources are going to become a substantial part of the U.S. energy profile.
Written by KEVIN REED.