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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.

Resources

Comments

kevin

Wintermane

George Bush has laid the foundation that will get us to zero in 10 years, dude, can i have some of what you are smoking!

The only way he has helped with this is to screw the country up so badly everybody knows how bad it is and understands the need for change.

I also don't think the concept is deliverable in 10 years, but we need to get moving NOW!!


OldNeil

wintermane: good to hear that you got your eyes fixed. I'm sure your quality of life is now much improved. Now we can actually read your posts (may not agree with all of them).

sjc

It seems like Al is a lightening rod for every right wing crackpot on the planet. Maybe it is because he speaks the truth and gets things done. They would rather rant simple minded ideology. It takes less brain power to rant.

HarveyD

Ten (10) years may not be enough but it is time to get started with massive investment.

Let's hear what the two selected Presidential Candiates have to say to move USA to a prosper oil-free democracy. So far, not much as been proposed. They should call on Al Gore if they are out of ideas.

Massive electrification of transport vehicles, HVAC etc is unavoidable. Fuel Cells in certain niche applications such as (long haul trucks, railroads, ships and possibly airplanes) may be required.

More clean electricity production is a sure requirement. More up to date Nuclear power plants may be required to satisfy increased base load and replace existing coal power plants. Solar and wind could play an important role withing 5-10 years, but as complementary sources.

TKG

Please correct me if I'm wrong but isn't nuclear a poor choice to back up wind and solar?
With a wide geographic distribution the outage rate gets very low.
As backup power is needed less and less, capital cost becomes more important relative to fuel cost.
i.e. cost when it is NOT running is more important.
What source has the lowest capital costs, NG?

litesong

George Bush did nothing, but cripple DOE science research investing for 7 years. What about this last year? George Bush increased by 40% DOE spending to ~$900 million for....'clean coal technology'.

Who will benefit by American research & the use of U.S based Peabody company which is the largest coal producer in the world? Well, China, of course, who will have 1000 coal-fired power plants in the future & ~ ten Chinese coal companies to strip Peabody of its tech.

Jonas

Zero-carbon emissions is a bit of a weak offer. We need negative emissions or carbon-negative energy. Anything less is too weak an offer.

We need to get atmospheric CO2 levels down to less than 350ppm, from today's 387ppm. We won't get there merely by focusing on carbon-neutral technologies. We need carbon-negativity.

Beyond zero emissions now!

dave burgdorff

Again with all the stupid politics. We need a compromise now. That's why I like the Pickens plan. He doesn't say "replace natural gas power generation with coal and use natural gas for cars". He says "lets use windpower and solar and free up natural gas for our vehicles".

The left won't budge from their insistance on total renewable. If the right accepts windpower which is only competitive with coal if all the "clean-up" costs are included. Why can't the left accept nuclear?

mahonj

The problem with global warming is the first word - global.
It is a global problem. Even if the US or Europe forswear economic growth for a few years and switch to a low carbon economy, the rest of the world will just pick up the oil / coal at slightly lower prices and plough on.

It does not matter whether the CO2 is produced in Indiana or India, CO2 is CO2.

Thus a unilateral approach is not enough.
You have to bring the whole world with you.

That is the scope of the problem - it is HUGE.

You could make a big dint in the US power market with Nukes, wind and solar, using hydro as a buffer for wind and solar.
Maybe solar thermal will scale properly, then you have solved the day/night problem, but there will always be days when 80% of the alternates are out and those will be problem days, perhaps needing a little Natural gas usage.

Also, a 100% target is nonsense - a 60% target is a useful stretch goal.

Add conservation and efficiency to that and you are burning a lot less coal and gas.

litesong

While some of you are beating Al Gore & wringing your hands that clean electricity can't be made in 10 years, the Northwest, parts of California, Colorado & states of the Appalachians, parts of Canada, Iceland, Europe & other parts of the world have been producing clean power for decades. No one who was burning coal seemed to care, except for downwinders to the coal-fired powerplants who often were the poor & were dying of lots of air pollution.

With their headstart, the mentioned areas continue clean electrical production with lots of wind mills springing up near dam powerlines & sending electricity off to the cities. They'll use the powerlines a third time as efficient solar panels start sending power down the lines....all this power integrated nicely into a cohesive mix.

The mix of renewable electrical power is so good, that is why the nuclear industry(& talkers here) are belatedly trying to hitch a ride on the back of renewable energy.

rob

"The problem with global warming is the first word - global.
It is a global problem."

The cause is a bunch of local problems, and we'll be in a lot more persuasive position if our own house is in order, AND we have the solutions to sell. The other places won't pick up the oil & coal if there are cheaper alternatives, especially when they can afford oil & coal even less well than we can.

Bill Young

TRG,

Nuclear is not the best choice for load following although it is done in France because almost all their electricity comes from nukes. Nuclear power is expensive up front but, once installed, has almost the same operational cost whether it is generating or not. It is far better as base load power (i.e. 24/7 full power).

Solar power is intermittent but it is predictable, at least in the US southwest. Unless you have more than 25% of your generating capacity in solar, the intermittency of solar does not give the grid operators heartburn. Above 25% you would probably want to include some energy storage. (This is much easier to do with thermal solar rather than PV.)

The intermittency of wind is more of a problem for the grid operator. He will start to get indigestion if he has much more than 7% of his capacity in wind unless he has a fast response backup like gas or pumped storage.

Bill

Rainmaker

It's good to see a majority of positive posts...especially about an Al Gore speech. I am personally part of an emerging player in the renewable energy sector and I know it CAN be done. Will it?...can't be predicted any better than next year's superbowl.

The naysayers here with all of their objections are clearly not as well read and informed on their subject matter as they claim.

A few reasons why it CAN happen:
1. This is a distributed problem. Unlike sending a rocket to the moon, people everywhere can be contributing without a massively managed coordinated effort.
2. The internet has made research information available quickly and on a scale never before used on such a quest.

fakebreaker

Utterly uninspired, self-serving, bullworth from Al and his twenty room, eight bathroom, Nashville mansion using 20 times average household electricity. Al thinks he can weasel out of his hypocrisy by claiming "I use carbon neutral energy."

An open letter to Al:

No Al. It don't work that way. You think you can make $100k per speech and jet around guilt free through "carbon offsets?"

Al, we love your new image; so much less cellulosic than the previous one - but straighten out buddy. You have ZERO credibility with real people. ZERO. Because you blew the CO2 AGW caper and now try to issue an energy challenge to the rest of us? First, try to get some cred back. Here's how: Sell your home, and cars and planes, move into a planned community (like Seaside FL), ride a bike to appointments, do not fly in jet aircraft, take public transit, install CFLs, do not rack up an electric bill higher than the mean average American (do you think you're special?)

Wear simple clothes and eat only locally grown food. If you drive a car, drive one that demonstrates your concern for the environment and costs no more than $40k. Work in a soup kitchen a few days a month and quit taking vacations. And please give back the Nobel Prize - you don't deserve it. AFTER you have met these, simple requirements for anyone who truly CARES about environment - give us your speech about Z-carbon electricity. Until then, you're just a handful of hanging chad with a press agent.

ToppaTom

Lets not confuse zero carbon with zero imported energy.
But let’s at least pull together where there are common solutions (conservation, solar, nuclear, hybrids, ethanol).
Zero-carbon Al would probably be a “landslide” president now if he was more realistic. Global warming is his baby and he cares more for his baby than the country. He probably would not have carried that into the white house.
Global warming is a global problem.
I agree that if we go to zero-carbon in 10 years we would really set an example. China and India would say “Wow, look what those Americans were able to accomplish in the 10 short years before they went bankrupt. Send another press release to NPR’s main office, in Havana, saying we plan to have negative CO2 emissions from those 35 new coal power plants real soon, Ha Ha Ha.”

The way I see it you start with a base load of fission nuclear plant that are bolstered by wind, solar, geothermal and hydro. Perhaps wave power as well. Then in 30 - 50 yrs fusion comes on line and replaces a lot of the fission. The dollar amounts are staggering and the time line is politically difficult in the US where to attention span is very short.

Rainmaker

Nuclear isn't necessary! There are so many massively deployable renewable options that don't have the serious drawbacks that nuclear has. For instance: with the $$ that are wasted in pandering about nuclear OTEC could easily be deployed on a comparable scale. Wind, wave, PV, thermal solar, geothermal, hydro...the list goes on, and they are all deployable technologies.

Kit P

@Lad,
What secret report?
“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.”

Do you mean the NATIONAL ENERGY POLICY, May 2001? The one I down loaded from the internet and read. The reason I did this was my job was developing renewable energy projects. Yes, Al Gore has a message but he is all talk and no plan.

Axil

The Clarion Call

The clarion call has gone out to act. A war of no quarter is upon us; the stakes: the very life of our nation.


A man, once cast low by is country, has marshaled his ironed resolution and now stands before the world as the true soul of his country. Other nations have bestowed their highest praise and awards to encourage him in the fight for the survival of our world.

When the fate of great nations are at stake, their great men rise in their hour of need to find the path, to remedy the ills, and to reverse the damage caused by lesser men in their blind stumblings and ignorance.

Now, the time is short, but right for the battle to begin. The Winston Churchill of the environment, the true soul of our nation, cast aside when young has returned in his maturity to strike the spark that will save his country.

Have no doubt, the enemy is fierce, and the resistance is strong. The forces of denial, ignorance, complacency, and self interest are rampant across the land; a dejected, enfeebled and embattled nation awaits salvation.

The ever steady and resolute leader has surveyed the battlefield and now judges the time is right, to rekindle the fires of this nation, and to bring a new morning to America.

arnold

After the inconvenient truth has had time to sink in and galvanise public opinion, Al's next announcement was always going to be big.
The knockers will criticize no matter if they are standing in it. So Al's speech needed to travel as widely as possible.
It is about inspiring us with the possible it points out a direction that will encourage the greatest numbers of people towards constructive thinking. In this regard he shows that if we can aim for the stars we might just make the moon.
And realistically this is what we need right now.

Andy

I notice the continued effort to personalize climate science as Al Gore's. Since he isn't a scientist, the rantings of hacks can be passed off as equally as informed. Of course it isn't Al Gore's science and the hacks are just that.

y ev

GridNOC
Grid Network Operations Center(NOC) will be as essential to the infrastructure of distributed alternative energy(wind/solar) as the MegaBatteries such as Nanosafe from Altairnano are now available.
GridNOC will soon be to GreenTech what DataCenters are to the internet and communication infrastructure.
GridNoc. could…….
Regulate peak demand
Relieve grid congestion
Eliminate the need for costly spot purchases
Allow utilities and grid operators to achieve maximum capacity and
Reach reserve margin goals effectively and economically .

arnold

Funny I don't recall Al Gore ever claiming the science as "his". Come to think of it the only people who make such claims are trolls who wish to shoot the messenger.
So Andy name a couple of people you hold in esteem for advancing awareness in your field(s) of interest.

Axil

Stand Ye Fellows Strong and True.

The unchanging adherence to any policy or position is the hallmark of the simpleton or the fool. Unlike other contemporary national leaders, Al Gore demonstrates flexibility of thought that is witness to a great national leader.

He has adjusted his environmental vision to include the very safe and powerful technology of nuclear energy in his plan to save our country

Inspired by the wisdom of this sage prophet, I call on all his idealistic, zealous, and strident supporters to draw from his inspiration, to analyze the current environmental and technological scene, and to embrace the common sense that is derived from the power of the atom.

Do not forsake him in a fixated fear of yesterday, but look toward to the glow of the limitless and the everlasting power of the universe.

It was courage that led man from their first homes, the caves of their origin, to the brink of space. To conquer the stars, there is no place for groundless fear.


Gird your hearts strong and true. Bask in the sprit of the great purpose. Fear leads only to the pit of the cold and dark.

Come join Al in this great effort. Do not falter in this hour of need. Stand and be tested. Ye fellows strong and true, embrace his strategies, all and many, that will lead us to a shining American tomorrow.


George

Dave Burgdorff writes: The left won't budge from their insistance on total renewable. If the right accepts windpower which is only competitive with coal if all the "clean-up" costs are included. Why can't the left accept nuclear?

I'm on the left and I don't insist on total renewable. The problem with nuclear is that it's not cost competitive. How much unsubsidized private investment is there in wind? Lots. Nuclear? ZERO. The Free Market doesn't like nuclear. Should that be telling us something?

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