We can help break our addiction to fossil fuels like coal and oil by switching to renewable energy. In fact, with upgrades to our electricity grid, the United States could meet all of its power needs, with renewable energy and support a significant portion of our transportation needs, too.
- Wind Power: The United States added enough wind power in 2007 alone to provide electricity to more than a million homes. Texas is the fastest-growing wind power state and about 15% of the country has excellent wind, especially the Great Plains. Today's efficient wind turbines are sleek and powerful, and can be taller than the Statue of Liberty with blades longer than the wings of a Boeing 737. When connected together through a national grid, wind power could provide at least one-third of our total electricity needs.
- Solar Thermal: Solar thermal power -- which uses solar energy to drive turbines -- already produces enough electricity in the United States for about 100,000 homes, but several utilities have announced projects to provide enough power for 10 times that many homes in the next several years. And, because solar thermal power plants can store energy to produce electricity at night, they can be installed in place of new coal power plants. Just a small area of solar thermal in the Southwest could supply all of the US electricity needs.
- Solar Photovoltaics: States like California and New Jersey are already implementing programs to encourage communities to install solar panels in new homes, buildings, and even on parking lot roofs. Solar photovoltaics, which can now be integrated into roof tiles, have no moving parts and can even produce electricity on cloudy days. It will become more common as global installations of photovoltaics grow by an expected 800% in the next 10 years. If these systems were installed on all sunny buildings in the US, we could supply at least one-quarter of our electricity needs.
- Geothermal Power: Today, the United States is the leading producer of geothermal power, producing enough electricity from underground hot rocks for more than 2 million homes. Experts say that we could have 15-30 times as much power over the next few decades thanks to recent advances in geothermal technology.
These technologies are just a few of the opportunities available today. All across the country and around the world, companies, governments, universities, and individuals are working to make renewable energy even more affordable and widely available.
The tide is turning toward renewable energy, but progress has been too slow. Individuals acting alone can't halt the 100+ new coal power plants currently being considered. And they certainly can't build new solar thermal power plants by themselves. That's why we need our leaders at all levels to do more to promote renewable energy.
Some government and business leaders are already taking a leadership role and considering the long-term costs of fossil fuels. Recently, three of the nation's largest investment banks -- Citi, JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley -- announced that they will begin using new climate-based principles when considering loans for proposed coal-fired power plants. This is a first step towards investors choosing efficient and clean alternatives -- which will create new jobs in important sectors.
To ensure greater adoption of renewable energy, each of us needs to urge our friends, utility companies, and government officials to more aggressively promote and integrate renewable power into all sectors of the economy. Together, we can stop the building of new dirty power plants and instead ensure that future energy projects take advantage of the clean renewable resources available.