May 3, 2009

Green Power Grows . . . but . . .

Things are lookin' up for green power, generated from renewable resources (solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, biogas, and low-impact hydropower). Whether the climate bill now being debated arrives at a mandate for renewable energy at 6 percent by 2012 or not, we're heading in the right direction. Of course, I'd like to see 25 percent by 2025, so I'll keep my fingers crossed. Even our Department of Energy secretary, Steven Chu, has said that we need Nobel-caliber breakthroughs!

The EPA's recent news release identifies the nation’s top green power users as Intel Corporation, PepsiCo, Kohl’s Department Stores, Dell Inc., Whole Foods Market, The Pepsi Bottling Group, Inc., Johnson & Johnson, U.S. Air Force, Cisco Systems, Inc. and the City of Houston.

The nation’s top 50 purchasers are buying more than 11 billion kilowatt-hours(kWh) of green power annually, equivalent to the carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) that would be produced from the electricity use of more than 1.1 million average American homes. . . EPA’s Green Power Partnership works with more than 1,000 partner organizations to voluntarily purchase green power to reduce the environmental impacts of conventional electricity use.

As the House debates this climate bill, one big concern is be how much the climate bill will cost us. The EPA estimates that the cap-and-trade part would cost the average U.S. household $98 to $140 a year, or 27 cents to 38 cents a day. Breaking it down to a daily cost makes it more palatable, I suppose.

Even the CEO of Duke Energy (on a recent 60 Minutes episode) agrees that his industry must address the pollution they produce in their coal-burning power plants. So 38 cents per day seems like an expense we can support!

An unusual coalition (with the likes of General Electric & the Natural Resources Defence Council) is also working together (yegads!) to fashion a climate bill that these 30 differing groups can swallow.

The ominous figures that I've seen, however, make the transition to clean renewable energy seem unsurmountable. The world supposedly uses more than 14 trillion watts (or 14 terawatts!) of power right now, and they predict that we'll need at least28 terawatts by 2050.

Nate Lewis of the California Institute of Technology says that we'd need 10 to 15 terawatts from wind energy and that would require one million state-of-the-art wind turbines. Also, we'd need 10 terrawatts from solar power, and that translates into covering one million roofs with solar panels every day until 2050. Then, to get 10 terrawatts from nuclear power, we'd need to build 10,000 new reactors--one every other day until 2050.

Then there's the problem of our old transmission lines that leak up to 80 percent of the current they carry.