10 Steps to Renewable Energy Future: A TreeHugger Review

wind turbines in kansas photo
photo by Brett Danley

As I'm sure most TreeHugger readers are aware, Al Gore recently articulated his vision of how the United States can combat climate change, help national security and reinvigorate the economy through an ambitious plan to generate electricity entirely through renewable sources by 2018. However, this call to arms is just a vision: The steps to get there are another thing entirely.

10 Steps Towards a Sustainable Future
Towards that end the Post Carbon Institute has issued what they think are 10 steps that need to happen in 10 years to enable the transition to all renewable energy generation. While these aren't instrumental steps, I think conceptually these flesh out the vision the Al Gore has presented. They read like a laundry list of perennial TreeHugger topics. Summarizing these steps, with some comments:
1. Reduce

Reduce consumption and reduce waste—not just of fossil fuels but of energy overall and of raw materials.

Glad to see that this is at the head of the list. The amount of natural resource consumption that is considered normal in the developed world, and is aspired to in the developing world, is entirely unsustainable from an ecological standpoint. Too many people consuming too many resources. And it's not entirely a problem of population growth in the developing world—though that is a part of the equation—the eco-footprint of one person in the United States, France or Canada is much greater than a person in India, Brazil or any number of African countries.

If poverty is to be tackled worldwide, then we in the developed world will have to learn to do more with less, and do less period. This doesn't necessarily mean a radical drop in happiness, life expectancy or comfort of living. We need to change our expectations of what is considered an adequate level of natural resource consumption and use those resources we do use more efficiently.

deforestation in brazil photo
photo by Leonardo F. Freitas
2. Share

Sharing things we do not use all the time can dramatically reduce consumption. For instance, we can reduce the energy we use for transportation by sharing both trips and vehicles [...] Public transportation, especially when widespread, frequent, cheap and reliable...is also a highly efficient form of sharing vehicles.

This can a long way towards addressing #1, but will require a shift in how the average person relates to their community, towards more interdependence—a bigger job in some places than in others.

3. Diversify

Sources of electricity, both in terms of generator size and location, concentrating on whatever renewable resources are locally available.

Thankfully, this is very near conventional wisdom in the renewable energy world at this point. There isn't one renewable energy solution suitable for every locale and people increasingly are recognizing this.

4. Distribute

Distribute electricity production so that households, businesses, and communities produce more of their own power.

This one still has a way to go before it gains acceptance as it will be a complete change in business model for large utilities, or their elimination altogether. Community based energy development and microgeneration though have a number of advantages that need to be exploited.

solar panel on house roof photo
photo by David.
5. Store

We need to develop much better and more abundant electricity storage technology because most of the best renewable energy sources are intermittent.

This one seems self-evident, though some of the need for storage can be mitigated by diversifying energy sources. Storage of renewable energy will be key though.

6. Reinvest

The project of rebuilding America's electricity infrastructure will require enormous public and private investment. The good news is that infrastructure investments pay tangible dividends for entire communities and for many generations—unlike speculative investments that only create temporary paper wealth for a few.

Yes. Yes. Yes. It may be expensive to shift to all renewable energy and a different civic infrastructure, but the local economic benefits will be great.

7. Relocalize

Rebuilding the local production and manufacturing economy while shortening supply chains will reduce transportation energy and carbon emissions, while creating jobs and supporting local economies.

I'd personally put this one higher up on the list, as I see it as crucial in a post-carbon world. Relocalization doesn't mean that trade stops by any means, it just means that if something can be produced locally, it should be. It means eating more seasonally and regionally. It means products being produced closer to the point of sale, even if the branding is the same across regions and countries.

union square green market photo
photo by x-eyedblonde via flickr
8. Reengineer

Even without the need to leave fossil fuels behind, America's electricity grid is in urgent need of overhaul. It needs to be repaired, strengthened, and in many cases dramatically re-wired to allow areas with large wind and solar resources to feed the demand centers.

This is really a subset of #6. As the electric grid, both locally and nationally, is retooled is can be constructed to take advantage of smart metering technologies to allow individuals to better monitor their power usage.

9. Reskill

America's workforce for the millions of green-collar jobs that will be created by our historic transition to renewable energy—quality jobs in projects that include re-engineering the grid, installing millions of solar panels and wind turbines, retrofitting tens of millions of buildings, and rebuilding America's fractured manufacturing sector and industrial supply chain.

Again, a subset of pretty much all the steps above, but it remains useful to remember that a green energy revolution has economic as well as environmental benefits.

10. Remobilize

Our transportation system needs to run on renewable electricity and human power. This means developing and deploying electric automobiles with related renewable generation and charging infrastructures, reviving and re-investing in electric trolley buses, streetcars, and electric rail - both light and heavy. We also need to revive and re-invest in pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, and bring in light neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) for both personal and shared use.

Agree entirely. I wouldn't add much to this. It addresses both the implications for urban areas, as well as less densely populated ones: An all electric transportation fleet doesn't tie us in to the source of generating power and allows for decentralization and diversification of electric supply. Also glad to see an emphasis on human powered transport. As TreeHugger has pointed out before, the bicycle is the most efficient form of transport for shorter trips.

handlebars of a bicycle photo
photo by Michele Aquila

Read more detail on each of the steps that the Post Carbon Institute recommends, :: 10 Steps in 10 Years to 100 Percent Renewable Energy .

Renewable Energy
"A Generational Challenge to Repower America": Al Gore's Energy & Climate 'Moon Shot' Speech
Renewable Energy Feed-In Tariff Legislation Introduced in U.S. Congress
Residential Solar Power Without Buying the Panels: Helio Green Energy Plan
Could Microgeneration Be as Powerful as Nuclear Energy?

Tags: Al Gore | Biking | Communities | Energy | Environmental Footprint | Farmers Markets | Public Transportation | Renewable Energy | United States


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