From the Washington Post, of all places:
Making Gore’s Switch Isn’t Quite So Simple
Al Gore must be kidding.
The former vice president, now in his second career as a climate Cassandra, has spent the past few weeks pushing the notion that the United States can be “repowered” – that all its electricity needs can be met without producing greenhouse gases. He says it can be done within a decade.
At the Democratic National Convention last week, he told the crowd in Denver that “we have everything we need” to start solving the climate crisis, except presidential leadership. And Gore’s nonprofit group has been reinforcing the message with prime-time TV commercials, in which everyday Americans find giant light switches protruding from streets and farm fields. The switches, of course, are metaphors for the country’s energy choices, not a sign that someone has put peyote in Americans’ French Roast. The people gather around and – working together, in a metaphor of their own – start flipping the switch toward “on.”
“The answer is simple,” a voiceover says. "Power our country with 100 percent clean electricity within 10 years."
The answer is simple: This is where Gore must be pulling our collective leg. Because most people who study the country’s energy supply say that – whatever you think of the motives behind Gore’s idea – as a real-life plan, it’s a non-starter.
1. There’s too much ground to make up.
Fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas now provide about 72 percent of all U.S. electrical power. Despite a recent boom in the building of renewable energy “plants” – U.S. wind-power capacity grew by 45 percent last year alone – solar, wind and geothermal power still provide less than 3 percent of the country’s power.
Many experts say they don’t know how you could replace one with the other, at least in a decade. The task would require finding large numbers of sites for wind turbines and solar arrays, which means wading through the kind of not-in-my-backyard fights that have held up turbine projects off Cape Cod and in parts of Appalachia. And it would require factories to produce more: New turbine orders take years to fill, wind industry officials say, and one placed today probably wouldn’t be delivered until about 2011.
2. The consumers and the energy are too far apart.
The areas of the United States that are richest in renewable-energy potential – the sun-baked Southwest, the windy Great Plains – are often far from the coastal cities that need their juice. So any major switch to clean power is going to require new transmission lines to connect the turbines out there and the flat-screen televisions over here.
3. "Carbon capture" may still be years away.
If renewable energy sources can’t fill the gap, environmentalists will push instead to find a way to stop fossil-fuel plants from producing harmful emissions. But the technology these plants want – devices that would absorb carbon dioxide out of smokestack gases, then store it underground – isn’t ready for commercial use yet. The Energy Department estimates that it might not be widespread until 2020. The current prototypes would be very expensive to manufacture, doubling the price of producing power at these plants.
I hate that people insist on comparing new problems to John Kennedy’s go-to-the-Moon-in-ten-years challenge. Landing on the moon was a fairly straightforward, but huge undertaking. It could be solved by throwing money and talent at it.
Not so AIDS, our current energy woes, etc, etc, etc.