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.