Monday I introduced Chris Blackman, who attended the AlwaysOn GoingGreen West conference for us.
I found her reporting of the attitudes toward implementing renewable energy into the grid in the face of entrenched interests disturbing.
Will the energy grid replace existing sources of power—oil, coal, gas, and nuclear—with renewable energy? Currently, our energy is finite and polluting yet highly efficient. And all of the players in the market, producers and consumers, recognize the need to overcome these limitations.
Solar energy accounts for only 0.003% of energy consumption in the US today and that is projected to increase to 2% by 2025. That kind of miniscule percent of the overall energy consumed is not specific to solar energy. Wind, bio-mass and geothermal heat all give a negligible contribution to the US’s power supply.
The players in the market have one requirement of energy: it must be reliable at all times. Oil and coal are reliable. And from what I could see at the AlwaysOn Going Green conference, oil and coal companies are not going to allow their market shares to erode without putting up a fight and having their case heard. Chris Poirier, CEO of CoalTek, emphasized to the audience: coal in particular exists here in the US in abundance; coal companies are developing cleaner versions of this resource.
Much is made of “clean coal” but at the end of the day, clean coal is an oxymoron. Coal is a disaster at every stage of its production.
To mine coal, currently the companies raze our mountains to procure the coal. What they absolutely never want to discuss is that they are a highly subsidized industry: all of the energy used to transport the coal over vast distances is subsidized.
But probably the gravest problem of using coal as an energy source is that it emits more carbon dioxide than any other fuel and those carbons are much more polluting because the carbon molecule in coal is larger.
According to John Woolard, CEO of BrightSource Energy, the only way that we can overcome the limitations of going completely green and clean is if we take a localized approach to integrating the grid. That requires the grid to receive energy locally: solar power from Southern California and the Western states, wind from the Mid-West states, tidal power from the coastal states, etc.
That is a smart way of consuming energy. However, what do cleaner oil and coal have in common? The infrastructure already exists for these products. The grid already runs on oil and coal.
How will consumers and the US government react to the fact that this resource resides in abundance in this country and that we wouldn’t have to pay to overhaul our infrastructure to continue to use it?
For argument’s sake, let’s suppose that all renewable energies will have the same level of projected involvement as solar will in 2025, renewable energies would capture about 15% of the market.
Hopefully this is an ineffective way of looking at the situation as nothing is static and clean and green tech companies could possibly improve the amount of energy they generate exponentially in the future.
This all begs the question: can green and clean tech survive and even thrive without national policies to encourage their adoption?
I fear that due to the propaganda of coal being cleaner from the coal companies and the lack of capital investment and political incentives from the government to upgrade our infrastructure we will not replace coal and oil in our grid with renewable energies.
What do you think?
(Be sure to see what Chris says about water.)
Image credit: LeoSynapse on sxc.hu