Issue Date: October 12, 2009
Achieving Renewable Energy
I suppose that by now one should be resigned to seeing ideology triumph over sound science and technology in federal policy. Rarely, however, has there been as extreme or dangerous an example as that provided by the passage of the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill less than two weeks after the June 15 release of the National Research Council (NRC) report on electricity generation from renewable energy sources (C&EN, June 29, page 25).
Waxman-Markey mandates 6% renewable electricity generation by 2012 and 20% by 2020; President Obama wanted even more extreme mandates (10% by 2012, 25% by 2025). In striking contrast, the NRC report indicates that 10% and 20% might be achievable by 2020 and 2035, respectively, and even this was based upon assuming "an aggressive but achievable scenario." The renewable deployment rate NRC considered achievable is less than half of what Obama and Congress seek to achieve by the waving of a legislative magic wand.
The NRC report also indicates that going beyond 20% would require major scientific advances and a "fundamentally different electricity system," in part to cope with the vagaries of wind and solar power, the availability of which are both intermittent and unpredictable.
Left unanswered is the question, Why bother, when we already have an energy source that emits no greenhouse gases, generates almost 20% of our electric power, and can be expanded without a major reworking of our entire electric power infrastructure? I refer, of course, to nuclear power.
France obtains almost 80% of its electricity from nuclear, and only politics and ideology prevent comparable advances here. Of course, our electricity needs are much greater than those of France, but the resources available to meet these needs are also comparably greater. Memo to Obama and Congress: If France can do it, "Yes, We Can!"
David C. Williams
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