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Gore’s Challenge to the US: 100% Zero-Carbon Electricity in 10 Years

In a major speech given today at the DAR Constitution Hall in Washington DC, former Vice President Al Gore challenged the US to end its reliance on carbon-based fuels and to “commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.”

While the primary focus of his speech was on power generation, Gore noted that the value and efficiency of an advanced, unified national power grid could be further increased by helping the auto industry switch to the manufacture of plug-in electric cars. “An electric vehicle fleet would sharply reduce the cost of driving a car, reduce pollution, and increase the flexibility of our electricity grid.

Gore said that the combination of serious economic, environmental and national security crises the US faces represent a “present danger” that puts “the survival of the United States of America as we know it...at risk.” The common core of all of these challenges, he said, is “our dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels.”

A few years ago, it would not have been possible to issue such a challenge. But here’s what’s changed: the sharp cost reductions now beginning to take place in solar, wind, and geothermal power—coupled with the recent dramatic price increases for oil and coal—have radically changed the economics of energy.

...To those who argue that we do not yet have the technology to accomplish these results with renewable energy: I ask them to come with me to meet the entrepreneurs who will drive this revolution. I’ve seen what they are doing and I have no doubt that we can meet this challenge.

To those who say the costs are still too high: I ask them to consider whether the costs of oil and coal will ever stop increasing if we keep relying on quickly depleting energy sources to feed a rapidly growing demand all around the world. When demand for oil and coal increases, their price goes up. When demand for solar cells increases, the price often comes down.

...To those who say 10 years is not enough time, I respectfully ask them to consider what the world’s scientists are telling us about the risks we face if we don’t act in 10 years. The leading experts predict that we have less than 10 years to make dramatic changes in our global warming pollution lest we lose our ability to ever recover from this environmental crisis. When the use of oil and coal goes up, pollution goes up. When the use of solar, wind and geothermal increases, pollution comes down.

...I for one do not believe our country can withstand 10 more years of the status quo. Our families cannot stand 10 more years of gas price increases. Our workers cannot stand 10 more years of job losses and outsourcing of factories. Our economy cannot stand 10 more years of sending $2 billion every 24 hours to foreign countries for oil. And our soldiers and their families cannot take another 10 years of repeated troop deployments to dangerous regions that just happen to have large oil supplies.

What could we do instead for the next 10 years? What should we do during the next 10 years? Some of our greatest accomplishments as a nation have resulted from commitments to reach a goal that fell well beyond the next election: the Marshall Plan, Social Security, the interstate highway system. But a political promise to do something 40 years from now is universally ignored because everyone knows that it’s meaningless. Ten years is about the maximum time that we as a nation can hold a steady aim and hit our target.

Reaching the goal of 100% zero-carbon electricity in 10 years faces a number of obstacles, Gore noted, including the lack of a unified national grid sufficiently advanced to link areas with good potential for wind and solar power generation to the rest of the country.

Our national electric grid is critical infrastructure, as vital to the health and security of our economy as our highways and telecommunication networks. Today, our grids are antiquated, fragile, and vulnerable to cascading failure. Power outages and defects in the current grid system cost US businesses more than $120 billion dollars a year. It has to be upgraded anyway.

...We are on the eve of a presidential election. We are in the midst of an international climate treaty process that will conclude its work before the end of the first year of the new president’s term. It is a great error to say that the United States must wait for others to join us in this matter. In fact, we must move first, because that is the key to getting others to follow; and because moving first is in our own national interest. So I ask you to join with me to call on every candidate, at every level, to accept this challenge—for America to be running on 100 percent zero-carbon electricity in 10 years. It'’ time for us to move beyond empty rhetoric. We need to act now.

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Comments

Alessio

8 years ago this man could have been the president ... I think that moment really changed a lot of things, I hope it's not too late to go back to a different American politics

Hal

Solar doesn't work at night, and wind is variable, so you can't power the grid just on those two technologies. At a minimum you need to add massive investments in overnight power storage, through pumped water and pressurized caverns. And realistically, to achieve his goal you need nuclear to be a big part of the mix. I would respect Gore if he would step up to the plate on that issue.

OldNeil

If our extreme right wing neo-cons (stan) can look past their knee jerk reactions to Al Gore, they'll realize that this is a terrific target. Argue if you will about climate change but he has a point about the economics of the situation. The US is going to go bankrupt (if it isn't already) unless it breaks its oil addiction. To do that you need an alternative. EVs are viable now and how polluting they will be depends on your grid. Even if you consider the goal to to unrealistic, what happens if you only manage to get part way to that goal? You still come out ahead.

Wells

I copied Al Gore's speech onto my word processor program. With narrow margins, it's 4 pages that I've printed and will read later. What caught my eye was the mention of plug-in hybrids. That technology has more promise than most people, even many regulars on this forum, fully understand.

Oh, but wait... Hybrids are so quiet they will kill blind people! Nukular powered cars! That's the ticket!

Matthew

Looks like Al Gore is getting his last shots in before the consensus crumbles completely and he gets run out of town on a rail. If his scare tactic about the U.S. not surviving doesn't do the trick, I expect him to start dialing people out of the phone book: "Hello...Mildred Burklethwaite? This is Al Gore. If you don't stop using so much energy you, personally, will die in the next six months."

globi

A LOT could be accomplished in the US with efficiency alone.

creativforce

Has the US government spent a total of $1 billion on renewable energy in it's history? Don't include farm subsidies for corn-based biofuel, that is just a handout to big agriculture. Nobody with a high school education and calculator ever expected E85 to be anything but a PR gimic. The war in Iraq is costing the US 1 billion dollars a day, add the higher prices we are paying for oil and the cost is probably double or triple that figure. Spend a billion dollars a day on transformative energy technology and the whole country could be running on wind and sun in 5 years. Go Al!

danm

If it can be done, it must be done.
To continue being hostage to fossil fuels is bad in every regard. (If it's not, name one)

Thank god someone is publicly holding the candidates to task. This should be coming out of the mouths of McCain and Obama.

Al's EvilTwin

I always listen to politicians with political science degrees who failed out of divinity school when it comes to scientific matters. Along with that I have my garbage man perform surgery on me when needed. My garbage man, similar Al Gore, also claims to be super smart and claims to know better than the doctors on surgical issues. I praise my garbage man to everyone and tell them that they will die if they don't listen to my garbage man.

Lad

Al Gore has a message. That's more than you can say about the Government, which has a secret energy policy known to only Cheney and the oil companies.

His message is simple: Impliment electric cars and electric mass transportation and alternative energy sources as quickly as possible. Israel and Denmark have a ten year plan to do just that while our politicians and fossil fuel stakeholders argue over who gets the next set of federal subsidies. The federal government is tied in knots by the current lobbyist system and can't accomplish a damn thing.

Lets stop the crap and get on with our future...alternative energy and electric drive transportation. Why aren't our richest 10% not investing in this future?...where is Bill Gates and the rest of the bright tycoons in all this? The next big thing is right under their noses and they can't seem to see it.

Joseph


Al Gore-"when demand for solar cells increases, the price often comes down".

No No it doesn't. This is a false statement. The demand for solar has never been as high as it is today and the price is not coming down. In fact it's going up. I got a quote for my 3 bedroom house just four months ago. After all rebates and incentives from the feds the state and my city. The bottom line was nearly 30K.

GarrettM

As someone who works in the electricity industry and spends every day trying to increase the amount of clean energy being generated and used in this country I applaud Gore's vision but have to shake my head at his timeline. His proposal will cost several years worth of US GDP at a minimum and to do it in 10 years time just isn't feasible. If the US forgot all the other valuable environmental, social, and political challenges it faced and dedicated itself solely to moving towards a carbon free electricity grid, we might be able to get there in 25 or 30 years.

Gore's speech paid lip service to the challenges that are to be faced but managed to trivialize them all the same. The challenges are enormous. It is crucial that we overcome them because climate change is likely the threat that Gore foresees, but urgency doesn't change the physical and economic realities of the world we live in.

Now, back to work. Apparently there is a need for more renewable energy and I think I can help.

Henrik

For everything I know 10 years to 100% carbon neutrality in the US electricity production is extremely unlikely. 30% might be possible in 10 years and 100% in 20 years if it became the top priority for the White House. I am 100% behind Al Gore’s goal of 100% carbon neutrality but to do it in 10 years is not realistic. I guess Al Gore perfectly knows that 10 years is unrealistic but that it is better to communicate it this way.

Moreover, coal prices are not rising forever. There is plenty of it so production will pick up in 2 to 3 years and the price will go down again from over $100 per ton as it is right now for imported coal to much less than $100 per ton. However, it will not be as cheap as it used to be mainly because shipping cost has risen permanently because of rising oil prices. Oil is another matter than coal. Oil will keep going up because there is no longer plenty of it everywhere and demand rises because a few million vehicles every month is added to the global fleet of vehicles.

stomv

Hal:

With all due respect, it doesn't matter if you "respect" Gore. Solar, wind, hydro, biomass, wave/tidal, and so forth all operate on different cycles, ensuring a minimum base load. Furthermore, since human electricity use is positively correlated with sun exposure, solar provides a natural tying of supply to demand. Furthermore, with batteries in cars, the auto fleet will serve as a massive power reserve, allowing the grid to capture supply that currently exceeds demand, and allowing the grid to make up inadequate supply by pulling from the batteries.

Will nuclear be part of the solution? Maybe. But, so long as there are other forms of energy which are clearly greener [ie don't leave a pile of radioactive waste behind], why not push on all those other forms first, and when we find we just can't generate enough green energy, then turn to nuclear?

Ultimately, if 100% of autos sold are full-electric 10 years from now, we'll have made an enormous accomplishment. We won't have only electric cars on the road, but we'll be trending that way.

As an added bonus, those in the Northeast who use oil heat [a large percentage] who this year will see their heating bill increase by over 100% will get a break, and while their electric bill might go up, it will help people not have to choose between heat and food.

Mark M

Good for you Al.
America can do it if it wants to, for this I have no doubt. It doesn't have the desire, that's why significant time and effort is spent on denying current events.
If you don't want to do it for the environment do it for the kids that are killed in the middle east at each conflict; do it for the new American economy that will be created, the old one is almost gone to China.

We can embrace the new economy or deny it and fall to third place.

A 10 year goal is a stretch, but if you aim for 40 you might make 50 or 60 yrs or not at all. If you aim for 10 you might make it in 15.

oilman

No No it doesn't. This is a false statement. The demand for solar has never been as high as it is today and the price is not coming down. In fact it's going up. I got a quote for my 3 bedroom house just four months ago. After all rebates and incentives from the feds the state and my city. The bottom line was nearly 30K.

But, it didn't go up because the costs of producing them went up.

The costs of pumping oil will go up, the costs of producing solar cells will go down.

Breakthrough in photovoltaics

doggydogworld

His proposal will cost several years worth of US GDP at a minimum.....

The cost is nowhere near that much. We get less than 3000 TWh per year from CO2-emitters. 1 TW of wind turbines costing $2 trillion could do that. That's about 2 months of US GDP. Spread over 10 years it's 1.5% of GDP. Of course you wouldn't do it all with wind. But geothermal, biomass, nuclear, etc. have similar cost per kWh. Solar is currently more expensive, but the imminent end of the polysilicon shortage and the coming flood of thin film production should change that.

The problem isn't cost, it's ramp rate. Wind, solar, etc. are ramping 30-50%/year but off a very small base. You'd have to scale these industries up 10x virtually overnight to meet Gore's goal. That's a huge disruption for an uncertain benefit. It makes much more sense for the US to focus on the more immediate problem of sending $700b/year overseas to buy oil. Substitute domestic sources (wind, natgas, etc.) for imported oil and the savings will be more than ample to fund a transition away from fossil fuels.

swen

First time I ever liked what Al Gore has to say.
Obama & McCain, pick up the baton & go for this
target. This will help save America. I favor a
Space-based solar power program.

Jorge

There are several industrialized countries which use the energy more efficiently than USA:
Sunday, July 13, 2008
The Most Energy Efficient Countries
Forbes has ranked the planet's top 10 most efficient countries, as measured in BTUs per U.S. dollar of GDP. The pool was the 75 largest nations; not surprisingly, many of the top 10 import most of their energy, making efficiency measures all the more urgent and practical. Here are the top 10 - read the full article and country profiles at Forbes.

1. Japan
2. Denmark
3. Switzerland
4. Hong Kong
5. Ireland
6. U.K.
7. Israel
8. Italy
9. Germany
10. Austria

http://mariaenergia.blogspot.com/2008/07/most-energy-efficient-countries.html

http://www.forbes.com/2008/07/03/energy-efficiency-japan-biz-energy_cx_jz_0707efficiency_countries.html


dan

In a perfect world this would be possible
but since this isnt a perfect world it is not going to happen

1. Car makers are going to go screaming into the night before they make a pure EV car. Unless they can charge twice what it is worth. In our capitolist country they want you to come back every month for air,oil,water filters, transmission fluids, oil changes. A pure EV car doesnt require that.

2. PHEV they love since you have both engines and the maintenance costs are higher over the life.

3. I am sure Mr and MRS america are going to love it if they go to there BEV and the battery is dead because it was a hot night in the city. Plus I am sure the lawyers will have a hay day on all the liablities in involved in that (such as catching a battery pack on fire and then somebodies house during a heavy drain)

4. It takes 7 years just to get a new power station setup will all the government requirements.

5. If you are going to use wind and solar in other states we as going to have upgrade the grid to handle it

6. Wind is not an attractive option, The large wind farm out in california on the mountain tops is real scenic.

cs1992

Can't say I care for Al Gore on a lot of issues, but I applaud him for this one. However, nuclear has got to be a short-medium term component of low carbon energy until better technology is developed.

GarrettM

Doddydogworld,

You are right in part about generation and ramp rate. But generation is the cheap part. Half a years GDP could get you all the renewable energy you would need if we had the production capability and all the resources at hand. But we don't and won't and it'd cost a lot more money than the current price per MW to do it so quickly.

The more expensive element is the energy storage and electricity grid improvements that would be needed to be 100% renewable. Those are the real expense and is where the other two or three years of GDP would need to be spent.

I just don't think Al's speech was helpful. I think the American public would have been just as motivated to change if he had said 25 years and the conservatives wouldn't have had such an easy time dismissing his speech as the rants of crazed man.

swen

Space-based Solar Power
Scientific American:
http://tinyurl.com/5gvpzj

wintermane

Bush pushes his way with nuke power wind and alt al gore pushes his way with wind and alt.. They all are pushing in the same direction and as hard as they can.

The fact is we are going to need nuke power to help reach the goal.. yes wind can handle alot more then it does now and it WILL under any president.

Now we can get close to zero in 10 years but ONLY because of bush.. dont you dare even peep a freaking word on that its cold hard fact. Without clean coal and a renewed nuke power ind we would be up the creek and you freaking well better get your ass into that idea NOW. We are going to have to convert ALL the coal and gas power plants to ccs setups as soon as we can get them out. China already plans to convert all thier coal plants to ccs and that alone means more then ANYTHING the us ever will do.

2 Final facts.. 1 we will not win this fight we wont even come close climate change is gona eat us for breakfast and poop out the chunky bits...

2 I can see again.. well enough and im BACK!!!!

danm

All the Gore-bashers and nay-sayers must now prove that he is wrong. They must "prove" that it is impossible to accept this challenge.
It must be proven that the technology is no-where near ready. Otherwise, we must pursue this.

Even if Gore is off by 100%, we could do this in 20 yrs...And this country would be a thousand times more secure, more healthy, more productive than it is today.

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