Renewable Energy Economy 101: Lester Brown Updates Us On the Story So Far

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In case you're new to the "new energy economy" debate—in short, figuring out how to transition the entire energy infrastructure of the world away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy—and want as about brief a summary as could be created of the progress made in the last year as well as some of the challenges ahead, this one's for you.

Lester Brown, of the Earth Policy Institute, has done all of the heavy lifting on this one (New Energy Economy Emerging in the United States), but here are some of the highlights:Energy Transition Happening Faster Than We Imagined

As fossil fuel prices rise, as oil insecurity deepens, and as concerns about climate change cast a shadow over the future of coal, a new energy economy is emerging in the United States. The old energy economy, fueled by oil, coal, and natural gas, is being replaced by one powered by wind, solar, and geothermal energy. The transition is moving at a pace and on a scale that we could not have imagined even a year ago.

Wind Power Front and Center
Brown asserts that wind power will be at the center of the future of energy and highlights developments in Texas and Wyoming, before moving farther afield:
California is developing a 4,500-megawatt wind farm complex in the Tehachapi Mountains northwest of Los Angeles. In the east, Maine—a wind energy newcomer—is planning to develop 3,000 megawatts of wind-generating capacity, far more than the state's 1.3 million residents need. Further south, Delaware is planning an offshore wind farm of up to 600 megawatts, which could satisfy half of the state's residential electricity needs. New York State, which has 700 megawatts of wind-generating capacity, plans to add another 8,000 megawatts, with most of the power being generated by winds coming off Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. And soon Oregon will nearly double its wind generating capacity with a 900-megawatt wind farm in the wind-rich Columbia River Gorge.

I'd point out that it's not just Delaware that is moving towards offshore wind power. New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Oregon also have offshore wind power projects in various stages of development.

Renewable Energy = True Energy Security + Job Creation
After summarizing recent developments in solar and geothermal power, Brown points out the economic advantages of renewable energy, in terms of energy security and job creation:

It is historically rare for so many interests to converge at one time and in one place as those now supporting the development of renewable energy resources in the United States. To begin with, shifting to renewables increases energy security simply because no one can cut off the supply of wind, solar, or geothermal energy. It also avoids the price volatility that has plagued oil and natural gas in recent decades. Once a wind farm or a solar thermal power plant is built, the price is stable since there is no fuel cost. Turning to renewables will also dramatically cut carbon emissions, moving us toward climate stability and thus avoiding the most dangerous effects of climate change. 

The shift also will staunch the outflow of dollars for oil, keeping that capital at home to invest in the new energy economy, developing national renewable energy resources and creating jobs here. At a time of economic turmoil and rising joblessness, these new industries can generate thousands of new jobs each week. Not only are the wind, solar, and geothermal industries hiring new workers, they are also generating jobs in construction and in basic supply industries such as steel, aluminum, and silicon manufacturing. To build and operate the new energy economy will require huge numbers of electricians, plumbers, and roofers. It will also employ countless numbers of high-tech professionals such as wind meteorologists, geothermal geologists, and solar engineers.

More at: Earth Policy Institute
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