Itis essential that the United States adopt an ambitious and comprehensiverenewable energy based agenda in order to achieve status as a low emissionssociety. Currently, renewable energy only accounts for 15% of total US energyconsumption, with a substantial amount of energy generation accredited tofossil fuels (64%).
The goal of such proposed policy should entail a cost-effectivecombination of energy efficient improvements, renewable energy deployment andstreamlined market integration. Further, a collaborative commitment torenewable energy by consumers, businesses and the US Government should beachieved to yield a healthy and sustainable climate for years to come. Currently,the United States is heavily reliant on fossil fuels as a main source ofenergy. In 2016, according to the US Energy Information Administration, of the4 trillion kilowatt-hours of energy generated, 34% was produced by natural gasand another 30% was produced from coal. Such statistics reveal a dependence onenvironmentally harmful sources of energy — a dependency which must be diminished. Further, the United States is notutilizing the full potential of its renewable energy capabilities. Of the mere15% of total energy produced by renewable sources, over 80% comes fromhydropower and wind energy, indicating an underuse of other sources such assolar energy.
Bi-phase Plan Overview Thegoal of this proposal is to effectively reduce the United States’ reliance onfossil fuels by setting goals for both the near (2022) and far (2030) future. Throughgovernment investment, environmentally driven business policy, and informedconsumer choices, renewable energy as a source of electricity will ideallybecome a nationwide norm and highly utilized resource. By 2022, the goal ofsuch policy recommendations contained in this proposal is for renewable energyto increase its market share within the US energy consumption market from 15%to 20%— a 33% increase in four years. This short term plan will involve aserious cutback on the use of coal; instead replacing much of energy lost withthat of natural gas, a much less harmful fossil fuel. Though this trade offwill create a temporary increase in use of natural gas, it should cut CO2emissions by a substantial amount. During this four-year period, the conversionto and development of solar and wind farms should be taking place concurrently.
By 2030, the goal of such policyrecommendation is to increase renewable energy market share even further, from20% to 32% — a 60% increase in eight years. The long run expectation for fossilfuels is that of decreased dependency and more environmentally methods ofproduction/procurement. Given ample time for research and development regardingways to develop more efficient solar and wind technology, the hope is that useof both coal and natural gas will fall to make up less than or equal to 50%market share. Though this may still seem like a large amount — and thus, stillas environmentally unfriendly — government incentives and consumer cooperationwill hopefully create habits that stray the general public away from pollutantemitting actions (as will be discussed in detail later on). Nuclear Power Note that this plan doescontains neither expansion nor reduction of the United States nuclear powerprogram. Currently, the US nuclear industry is struggling due to competitivefossil fuel prices and high financing costs for nuclear power plants. In thepast decade, many nuclear power plant development projects have been delayed orcancelled as financing is difficult in comparison to the cost of using naturalgas.
Further, the fission of uranium isotopes, which releases kinetic heat thatis used to power a steam turbine, presents a history of safety issues andcontroversy including tritium leaks, reactor meltdowns and nuclear wastedumping. For these reasons, future development of nuclear fission reactors is afutile pursuit. Because nuclear fusion (which uses the combination of hydrogenisotopes to generate high amounts of energy) is not yet feasible option forwidespread renewable energy generation, this plan will omit changes to thecurrent program.FossilFuel Reduction The use of fossil fuels— such as coal, oil and natural gas — is extremely harmful to the environmentat all stages of production. In 2014, 78% of greenhouse gas emissions wererelated to the release of carbon dioxide by the energy industry. Of thisnumber, 32% came from coal and 27% from natural gas. The extraction of coaloften uses harmful processes such as strip mining and mountaintop removal.Further, when coal is mined and processed, particulate matter is released whichcan cause lung issues.
When hydraulic fracturing (also known as “fracking”)methods are used to obtain natural gas, it can lead to groundwater pollutionand minor earthquakes. Further, it is a waste of water itself, as millions ofgallons are required per well. Additionally, methane, a greenhouse gassignificantly more harmful than CO2, is released at many stages ofdrilling and transportation. It is often leaked from natural gas pipelines, adangerous occurrence as it has no distinct smell or appearance. Methane canalso be produced through oil drilling, where it is either vented or burned andreleased into the atmosphere to contribute to global warming. Otheremissions released by the burning of fossil fuels involve sulfur dioxide,nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. Sulfur dioxide arises from the burningof coal and is a main component of acid rain and particulate matter. For thesereasons, because coal cannot be completely eradicated as an energy source, theincreased use of electrostatic precipitators and fabric filter bag-housesshould be implemented to reduce the emission of particulate matter.
Additionally, mercury is produced by coal-fired power plants and isbiomagnified up aquatic food chains where it can cause neurological damage. Nitrogenoxide is a product of all fossil fuel combustion. It is known to be one of themain contributors to acid rain photochemical smog.
Acid rain increases theacidity of bodies of water, which can upset the aquatic ecosystems.Additionally, it can leach nutrients from the soil. Itis for these reasons that a short term switch from coal to natural gas is idealto conserve our environment. Coal produces two times more CO2 thannatural gas, thus a steep drop in coal powered power plants and a smallincrease in natural gas power plants would severely reduce the amount of CO2emissions by 2022. Additionally, with developing research regarding carbonsequestration, emissions from the remaining coal power plants will hopefully belowered as well.
In the long term, reduced dependency on all fossil fuels isthe most ideal outcome. Expandingthe Renewable Energy Program Currently, hydropower ismost used source of renewable energy in the US, comprising 44% of all energygeneration. This proposal does not attempt to make changes to the currenthydropower program. Instead, this recommendation is focused on the expansion ofsolar and wind energy — two resources with largely untapped possibility — on the abundant plains and open land that the UnitedStates has to offer.
Solar photovoltaic panels change sunlight directly intoelectricity through the excitement of electrons. The main benefit of solarenergy is that it is a completely clean source that produces neither airpollutants nor carbon dioxide. Additionally, other than the crystalline siliconused to produce the photovoltaic panels, there is minimal effect of theenvironment. The only downside of solar energy is the non-constant nature ofthe day-to-day sunlight reaching earth’s surface. For these reasons, solarfarms should be placed in regions of the United States that experience mildweather with many sunlight days, minimal cloud cover and low amounts ofprecipitation. Further, it is worth the investment to build tracking panels to optimizethe hours of sunlight exposure. Windturbines are another completely clean source of energy that operate by letting windspin blades, which operate a turbine creating energy within a generator’smagnetic field. In 2016, 40 states had utility scale wind farms — a number thatcan hopefully be raised to all 48 continental US states.
As wind speedincreases with altitude and is most efficient in large open areas withoutwindbreaks, this plan recommends the immediate construction of windfarms in themany open plains and mountain gaps of the continental US. Further, the UnitedStates has the potential for successful amounts of offshore wind farm energygeneration off the East Coast. Because wind turbines do not release emissionswhen generating energy and release no air pollutants, they will be instrumentalin the shift towards a low emissions society. As for the downsides, researchersare working on streamlining the appearance of the turbines — though this issueis solved by erecting them offshore.
Further, the wind energy industry is consideringdesigns that will ensure the protection of winged animals, such as birds andbats. ConsumerCooperation Asmentioned above, consumer cooperation plays a large role in the success of thisproposed energy plan. Whether it is switching to more fuel-efficient vehiclesor investing in renewable energy, the consumer is largely responsible for theday-to-day choices regarding their sources of energy. The first commitment thatconsumers can make to the renewable energy shift is switching to a hybrid orelectric car. Gasoline powered cars emit numerous air pollutants such as NOx,VOCs, CO2 and particulate matter through the combustion of fossilfuels. By investing in a hybrid (a car which runs on both gas and electricity)or an electric car, consumers can ensure that they are reducing their emissions.For those that do not feel comfortable making the leap to an electric vehicle,switching to a car with better gas mileage or being a more conservative drivercan make a big difference as well.
Consumers can also invest in various sourcesof smaller scale renewable energy production. Those building a new house mightconsider incorporating elements of passive or active solar heating. Another commoninvestment is in solar panel units, often placed on the roof or in the backyardof residential homes. The incentives to do so are high, as the electricitygenerated from these panels can then be used to power the home itself and the solarrenewable energy credits can be sold for profit. Lastly, for those who live inrural areas or own farms, investment in wind turbines could prove a worthwhileendeavor as, similarly to solar panels, the electricity generated can be usedto power the surrounding area and renewable energy credits can be sold forprofit. BusinessAction The corporate world alsoplays an important role in the implementation of renewable energy through promotionof and commitment to 100% renewable power. Companies like We Mean Business havetaken initiative in this regard, persuading over 100 companies — includingmarket leaders such as Walmart, Ikea, Nestle and Unilever — to agree to the lowcarbon transition and ambitious goal of 100% renewable energy.
Taking advantageof their influential position as market leaders, these companies should promotethe commitment to environmental protection — as through such actions, not onlyis the public made aware of its necessity but company employees are alsoindoctrinated to the importance of such action. GovernmentIncentive Lastly, the USgovernment has a responsibility to both its citizens and its environment toprevent detrimental climate change by converting to a low emissions society as soonas possible. The most effective way to do so would be using a three-pronged: incentivizethe citizens, pass effective environmentally conservative legislature, build aclean energy economy. First, by giving both business and individuals citizensincentives, such as tax credits or subsidies, to invest in renewable energy,the government would play a large role in the acceleration of the widespreadapplication of new technologies. For example, the US government currently giveselectric car owners a $7,500 tax credit simply for purchasing their vehicle. Theyhave also paid $26 billion for energy subsidies to support research anddevelopment for renewable technologies.
Second,legislature that places a tax on carbon dioxide emissions would serve as a sintax, de-incentivizing the use of fossil fuels and supporting the use and growthof electricity generated from wind and solar sources. The revenues from thistax could then be used to fund more clean-energy research and development.Third, by building a clean energy economy through investing in renewable energytechnology, business and approaches, the federal government can ensureexponential growth of this sector. Already, companies are pursuing clean energybecause it is the fastest growing sector in the United States. The federal governmentshould encourage and support this growth, providing legislation and fundsneeded to continue the innovation.
TheNecessity of an Updated Energy Agenda Climatechange poses a threat to the world and our ecosystem as we know it. What usedto be textbook warnings for future conditions — month long wildfires thatravage town after town, three devastating hurricanes in the span of a month, entireisland nations in danger of being submerged in the ocean — have now becomereality. Rising temperatures will lead to melting icebergs, sea level rise, increasedair pollution, shorter and more volatile winters and unpredictable weather.Governments, business and communities must commit to bold action against thecombustion of fossil fuels, instead looking towards clean and renewable sourcesof energy to power the future.