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
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|
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|
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|
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.
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|
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.
- American Council On Renewable Energy, (2007). The Outlook on Renewable Energy in America Volume II: Joint Summary Report page 7
- SEGS I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII & IX