The two-way approach

August 22, 2013 | 00:00

The two-way approach

The US Administration can promulgate laws that apply to the whole nation, while on state level strong opposition arises sometimes, and on national level political opponents often react vehemently, as for instance the republicans do against proposals of the Obama-government. If the Republicans win the next elections it will not come as a surprise for anybody, if the energy wardrobe will partly change, if not the fashion itself. But may be a bigger, somewhat hidden design is already in the air?

Fossils and renewables: collide or coexist?
(c) Richard Schultz/ Corbis
If we compare China and the European Union using centralised power as a criterion, it is clear that the Chinese government and its operational hierarchy can make act the country as one. The EU-commission on the contrary constantly has to deal with the sovereignty of the Member States and their 28 differing histories and political characteristics. The EU acts like a family in which the children are more grown up and older than the parents. This mosaic of national decisive powers also regards the policy and strategies of the transition towards a sustainable energy future and every step along the road up till now. If China and the EU represent both ends of a measuring rod ranging from centralised to decentralised the USA finds its self in the middle.

Reactions from the republican camp give reason to draw such a conclusion as mentioned above. Just one example out of many. When on February 12 this year in his State of the Union Address the American president pledged to implement a climate change agenda and pass legislation for a market based mechanism to reduce emissions republican Blaine Lutkemeyer came with a quick response and introduced legislation to prohibit the United States from contributing taxpayer dollars to the IPCC and UNFCCC. Such a move indicates that not only the right wingers are questioning the authority or objectivity of those institutions, they above all prefer the private sector to take the lead in investments and advancements, thereby keeping the power and pace of change in the hands of the industry and the market.

Independency the heart is beating

However, these counter ‘attacks’ indicate that the crux in the attitude of the Republicans still lies in their believe that private initiatives and the market should prevail over an ordering or prescribing government where White House modesty is in place. But this type of opposition is not an absolute sign of a party denying global warming or rejecting the greening of energy. It is making clear that there are diehards who still live in the past when oil was generally considered to be America’s lifeblood and private initiative should stand high. The young right wingers have a more open mind towards sustainable developments for two reasons at least. Firstly the New Energy World (NEW) represents innovation, advanced technology and therefor empowers business, leadership and brings new jobs. Secondly entering the NEW ensures independency more than dwelling in the past. And Americans probably have a gen for independency.

Although a majority of the Democrats is more in favour of a firm sustainable strategy than the Republican opponents, the ruling party also meets local dilemma’s within its own bosom. A situation that can be compared with EU Member States that suffer from difficulties caused by the central EU-government. For instance, President Barack Obama’s goal of limiting carbon-dioxide emissions has put Democratic leaders in energy-producing states such as Montana in a bind, caught between bellicose Republican statements of a “war on coal”

But this type of opposition is not an absolute sign of a party denying global warming or rejecting the greening of energy
and emboldened environmentalists who are calling for swift action. The threat of losing jobs concerns both political camps. Obama’s plan to fight climate change would include executive action to place limits on carbon pollution from new and existing power plants, while expanding development of renewable energy. Therefor Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz answered that the president’s energy policy will still embrace traditional energy sources such as coal and oil. Republican leaders in Montana were unconvinced. They predicted dire consequences for the state, calling the plan a war on energy and a job killer. The reaction sounded fiercely”: “This is a war on Montana energy, Montana families and small businesses and Montana jobs, and I will remain steadfast in the fight to stop the President’s job-killing agenda,” U.S. Rep. Steve Daines said in a statement.

Another Republican, Attorney General Tim Fox, warned the plan will blow a hole in the state’s budget, “In attempting to rule by decree and legislate by regulation, President Obama has failed to take a balanced approach to energy policy and has failed to recognize the diverse interests and economies of 50 states,” Fox said. It is obvious that president Obama needs a balancing pole to cross the canyon from here to a more green future.

These incidents show there will be political battles every step of the way. Nevertheless the results concerning the development of green energy and measures that lower greenhouse emissions do not deviate much from those in other parts of the world. For instance, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, CO2 emissions are back to their 1994 level, fulfilling the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 which the USA ironically never ratified.

Rationale for renewables

What can be said about the actual state of green energy and the targets or plans for the future as a pointer to further developments? Non-political support serves a steady progress and transition projects materialise the steps forward. A few examples. In a letter to president Obama the influential MIT Technology Review argued early this year, that addressing climate change must take top priority in the next four years. A remarkable sound came from private insurers blaming $139 billion claims on ‘disasters related to climate change’. (The Economist 8 June). We know as money speaks Americans listen.

Non-political support serves a steady progress and transition projects materialise the steps forward
A majority of Americans continue to favour alternative, clean power sources over traditional fossil fuel. In a 2010 Chicago Council on Global Affairs public opinion survey an overwhelming 91 percent believed "investing in renewable energy" is important for the United States to remain economically competitive with other countries, with 62 percent considering this very important. The same poll found strong support for tax incentives to encourage development of renewable energy sources specifically as a way to reduce foreign energy imports. Eight in ten (80 percent) favoured tax incentives, 47 percent even strongly, and only 17 per cent were opposed. Other businesses than the usual energy enterprises see new opportunities: Some 180 large-ale solar projects could be built on farm land this year as developers rush to take advantage of the subsidies. New business invites. Renewable energy technologies, as we know, encompass a broad, divers array of technologies, including solar photovoltaics, power plants and heating/cooling systems, wind farms, hydroelectricity, geothermal power plants, and ocean power systems and the use of biomass. All of these are applicable in the USA.

The report Outlook On Renewable Energy In America explains that America needs renewable energy, for many reasons: America needs energy that is secure, reliable, improves public health, protects the environment, addresses climate change, creates jobs, and provides technological leadership. America needs renewable energy. If renewable energy is to be developed to its full potential, the U.S. will need coordinated, sustained federal and state policies that expand renewable energy markets; promote and deploy new technology; and provide appropriate opportunities to encourage renewable energy use in all critical energy market sectors: wholesale and distributed electricity generation, thermal energy applications, and transportation. [note 1]

In 2009, President Barack Obama in the inaugural address called for the expanded use of renewable energy to meet the twin challenges of energy security and climate change. Those were the first references ever to the nation's energy use, to renewable resources, and to climate change in an inauguration speech of a U.S. president. President Obama looked to the near future, saying that as a nation, the United States will "harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories." The president's New Energy For America plan calls for a federal investment of $150 billion over the next decade to catalyse private efforts to build a clean energy future. Specifically, the plan calls for renewable energy to supply 10% of the nation's electricity by 2012, rising to 25% by 2025. And it looks like the targets can be met.

Renewable energy in the United States accounted for 13.2 percent of the domestically produced electricity in 2012. Renewable energy reached a major milestone in the first quarter of 2011, when it contributed 11.7 percent of total U.S. energy production (2.245 quadrillion BTUs of energy),

The United States has some of the best renewable energy resources in the world, which have the potential to meet a rising and significant share of the nation's energy demand
surpassing energy production from nuclear power (2.125 quadrillion BTUs). 2011 was the first year since 1997 that renewables exceeded nuclear in US total energy production. Hydroelectric power is currently the largest producer of renewable power in the U.S. It produced around 6.2% of the nation's total electricity in 2010 which was 60.2% of the total renewable power in the U.S.] The United States is the fourth largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world after China, Canada and Brazil. The Grand Coulee Dam is the 5th largest hydroelectric power station in the world.

U.S. wind power installed capacity now exceeds 60,000 MW and supplies 3% of the nation's electricity. Texas is firmly established as the leader in wind power development, followed by Iowa and California. Since the U.S. pioneered the technology with Solar One, several solar thermal power stations have also been built. The largest of these solar thermal power stations is the SEGS group of plants in the Mojave Desert with a total generating capacity of 354 MW, making the system the largest solar plant of any kind in the world [note 2]. The largest photovoltaic power plant in North America is the over 200 MW Agua Caliente Solar Project in Yuma County, Arizona. The Geysers in Northern California is the largest complex of geothermal energy production in the world.

Current trends

The United States has some of the best renewable energy resources in the world, which have the potential to meet a rising and significant share of the nation's energy demand. A quarter of the U.S. land area has winds strong enough to generate electricity at the same price as natural gas and coal. Thanks to subsidies (renewed in January 2013) wind power did well in 2012 with the Department of Energy ‘expecting’ that by 2030 20% of energy demand could be met by wind, compared with the3,5% share in electricity supply today. Without the PTC (production tax credit) there will still be a trickle of demand for new turbines.

Many of the new technologies that harness renewables — including wind, solar, geothermal, and biofuels — are, or soon will be, economically competitive with the fossil fuels that meet 85 percent of U.S. energy needs. Dynamic growth rates are driving down costs and spurring rapid advances in technologies. Energy technologies also receive government subsidies. In 2010, federal government subsidies for electricity production from renewables, fossil fuels, and nuclear were $6560 million, $1843 million and $2499 million respectively.

The United States uses about 4,000 billion kWh/year of electricity, in 2012, and about 98 Quadrillion btu/year (30,000 billion kWh). Due to efficiency improvements this is expected to drop to 15,000 billion kWh by 2050.

The transition efforts so far are not diverging blatantly from those in other parts of the world
The United States has the potential of installing 11 million MW of onshore wind power and 4 million MW of offshore wind power, capable of generating over 47,000 billion kWh. Solar has the potential of installing 10 to 20 million MW of concentrated solar power in the Southwest, capable of generating over 10,000 billion kWh. Other than geothermal, no other resources come close to providing the energy demands of the United States in a post fossil fuel world. All but four U.S. states now have incentives in place to promote renewable energy, while more than a dozen have enacted new renewable energy laws in recent years.

An unexpected motto

If we return to the comparison between these three majors mentioned above it can be said in general that the transition efforts so far are not diverging blatantly from those in other parts of the world. China – please read the contribution of Rudolf ten Hoedt in this series- still shows an extensive expansion of the fossil volumes, but bear in mind that the country is still busy to overtake the arrears. How a slowdown of the stark economic growth, as the Chinese government recently announced, will influence the building scheme in the energy sector remains to be seen. The EU is struggling in its own way to leave the ‘old’ energy world behind with clear differences on Member State level, while the US seems to drive on two highways at the same time. The US apparently is experiencing an energy/shale and tight oil boom. Although new technology is applied, the fuels are conventional. Over the last three years oil went up by more than 20% and the use of gas is reaching new heights with a growth of over 30% in the last seven years. This is also powered by the will to strengthen the competitiveness of the economy versus those of Asia and Europe. Lower energy prices than elsewhere form unmistakably a strong factor. Gas is trading around a third of the price in Asia and Europe. Us Crude oil prices are some 10% lower than the global Brent benchmark and consumers power prices are half of what most Europeans have to pay. If all this helps strengthening the competitiveness an economic renaissance could be the outcome with an interesting possibility: More money will be available for investment in projects and technology that enhance sustainable developments. May be the two-way approach entails a strategy after the fact: Old for NEW.



  1. American Council On Renewable Energy, (2007). The Outlook on Renewable Energy in America Volume II: Joint Summary Report page 7


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