Solar Thermal Power + New Direct Current Electric Grid Could Make US Renewable Energy World Leader

photo: Ausra

Fred Pearce has framed his latest opinion piece in Yale Environment 360 as one about Europe fiddling around with its climate change commitment (with German Chancellor Angela Merkel as lead violin), while the US is poised to reengage with the world under the Obama administration. What it’s really about though is what the US would need to do to take that lead, and it all has to do with renewable energy. Though some of this may be recap for avid TreeHugger readers, it’s worth repeating:
Stephen Chu Appointment a Good Sign
Beyond his stated commitment to dealing with climate change during the campaign, Pearce indicates that the appointment of Stephen Chu as energy secretary is the real sign that the US could soon lead the renewable energy/climate change race. Not only has he done pioneering research on solar power, energy efficiency and cellulosic biofuels at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, he’s also an advocate of a nationwide expansion of the electric grid to bring renewable energy from where it’s most easily generated (west of the Mississippi) to where the greatest demand is (east of the river).

Solar Thermal = 90% of US Power on 10% of Nevada’s Land
In terms of technology, Pearce cites solar thermal power, deployed across swaths of desert in the West, as being the thing that really could make a dent in lower the US’s carbon emissions: By some accounts 40,000 MW of electricity could be generated this way; 90% of the US’s electricity could be generated by using a mere 10% of the Nevada desert. But only if distribution exists to bring it out of the desert; that would come in the form of a new direct-current transmission system using superconducting materials.

US Action Could Spur Europe, Aid Chinese Manufacturers
Pretty standard talking points these days, but this is how Pearce brings it back to Europe and extends it to East Asia:

This is not just about the United States. The technology that drives America usually ends up driving the world. If Obama goes for a smart super-grid, you can almost guarantee that Merkel and her fellow Europeans will suddenly get more enthusiastic about a super-grid scheme quietly being promoted there to hook up to solar energy from the Sahara desert. A grander version would also tap geothermal energy from Iceland, hydropower from Scandinavia, and wind power from the North Sea.

And China? Whisper it quietly, but China is already the world’s largest manufacturer of wind turbines. Any industrialist sitting in China and watching the U.S. government open its wallet to rebuild the country’s energy infrastructure will be thinking contracts, contracts, contracts. China will want to manufacture the wind turbines and solar panels and superconducting cables.

As TreeHugger has said before, Barack Obama has an overstuffed environmental suggestion box has been full for some time now. Once he’s actually in office we’ll have to see if he rises to the level of his own rhetoric and give some pushes and reminders if he starts falling short.

Read all of the original article: As Europe Fiddles, US May Take Lead on Climate Change
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Tags: Barack Obama | Electricity | Renewable Energy | Solar Power | United States