A "new energy economy" is emerging in the United States. Now.
That's the way Lester R. Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute and one of the most influential voices on buidling a sustainable economy, sees it. Here's a look at the bones of his latest argument, which I've organized into seven ways to feel hopeful on a Monday:
Texas is the richest oil state in the United States, and yet it has become the nation's biggest producer of wind, and has the biggest plans to expand wind energy production. Within years, it will have 45,000 megawatts -- the equivalent of 45 coal-fired power plants -- generating all the electricity consumed by homes in the largest state in the lower 48.
The world's largest wind farm, with the electrical output of about five coal-fired power plants, is being built in South Dakota. Not only will that Clipper Windpower and BP wind farm produce five-times as much energy as the state's homes consume. But the project also includes a transmission line through Iowa into Indiana, where there's industrial hunger for power. Experts have said that improving the electric grid will be key to tapping into vast stores of energy in the relatively sparsely populated Heartland.
Similarly, Colorado billionaire Philip Anschutz has secured the rights to build not only a 2,000-megawatt wind farm in Wyoming, but the rights to build a high-voltage transmission line to California. Another line could run to Colorado, and both Kansas and Oklahoma are looking to export wind energy to the power-hungry Southeast via new transmission lines.
Delaware could be the first state to build an offshore wind farm, and the 600-megawatt farm would produce half of what homes in the state demand.
California's Million Solar Roofs Plan aims to install 3,000 megawatts of solar panels across the state's residential and commercial rooftops. California will also be home to eight of the 10 solar thermal power plants under construction or in development. By concentrating the sun's heat to produce steam, these plants harness the sun's energy in a different way than solar photovoltaic cells. By 2011, the U.S. will be generating 3,500-megawatts with solar thermal technology.
What's the best use of 12 square miles of desert? Maybe a gigantic solar farm. PG&E is building two solar panel farms that together will produce 800 megawatts of energy, about as much as a coal-fired power plant.
Nevada is the leader of 12 Western states where 96 new geothermal power plants are in development. Together, these will double U.S. geothermal capacity to 6,000 megawatts.
Brown sees these technologies as the leading edge of a movement to transform the U.S. economy. At the same time we switch to renewable sources of energy, we will add additional demand as we stop using gasoline as fuel and start using electric plug-in vehicles, as we invest in light-rail and other electrified public transportation, and as we switch away from fossil fuel heating and cooling to electric.
The end result will be a more secure, far cleaner energy supply system, the development of which creates "thousands of jobs each week."
The key, he says -- and many experts agree -- will be to upgrade the electricity distribution network. This means not only long-distance high-voltage transmission lines, but also new technology to regulate the flow of electrons from areas of the country producing electricity to those demanding it, on a real-time basis.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.