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November 17, 2009
U.S. lagging behind in harnessing green energy

In talks between President Obama and the Chinese president, climate change was high on the agenda.

A recent report found that China is the world’s leading renewable energy producer.

Daljit Dhaliwal speaks to Emma Duncan, deputy editor of the Economist, about the future of green growth around the globe.

Is the United States lagging too far behind other countries in developing renewable energy sources and businesses?

Tell us what you think in the comments section below. Please remember to be respectful and on-point in your comments. Malicious or offensive comments will be deleted and repeat offenders will be banned.

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28 comments

#28

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#27

I am a consulting professional engineer doing power studies, mostly for wind clients at the current time. Currently the CCS carbon capture and sequestration program is estimated to cost $100 per tonne of CO2 captured and stored. At that price coal power is increased in cost by 16 cents per kwh which makes coal power too expensive. There are only two kinds of base load generation that are economic at this time, coal and nuclear power. Wind lags behind due to lack of transmission, a national highway grid, and its intermittency for use as base load generation. Wind can supply some energy but is not reliable enough for industrial customers demanding nearly 100% reliable service. There is not a good economical way to store electrical energy, otherwise wind would be feasible for supplying base load power. Possibly if there are enough electric cars available, their batteries could be used for energy storage. But that is probably many years into the future. Rooftop solar is believed to be low cost, however it does not produce much energy, only about 15% of the time. This makes rooftop solar only useful for peak daytime load shaving, which it can do, but does not address the problem about replacing coal. The only source of power that can replace coal is nuclear power. Fortunately 4th generation nuclear plants will be capable of the following:
1) burning waste as its fuel, thus solving the waste problem,
2) eliminating the need for mining of uranium since waste will be the fuel,
3) freeing the US from foreign energy markets and making us independent energy producers again,
4) allowing easier monitoring of the nuclear fuel processes than we currently are used, thus making nuclear more terrorist resistant, and
5) eliminating the need for a huge amount of new transmission lines that are needed for solar and wind sources. Note that the more unreliable a source is, the more backup transmission is required. If you had a 100% reliable source of power beside your factory or house, you might need no transmission system at all.

So the future of the US is dependent on a mix of wind solar and nuclear and a near 100% conversion to electric vehicles. In this manner we can become energy independent and solve the climate problem. However we do not have the luxury of eliminating the nuclear option. Countries like France, England, Russia, China, India, Japan, and South Korea have agressive nuclear plans they are currently implementing. The US is going to have to follow them and do the same if it wants to solve both the energy and CO2 proglems. Federal subsidies are not the complete answer. A subsidy just gets something started. It must be economic on its own. This is the current problem with solar, its just too expensive. For example a 15 billion dollar 2000 MW nuclear plant sounds expensive. However you would have to spend about 84 billion dollars on solar panels to produce the same amount of energy each day as that nuclear plant. The solar power is actually quite a lot more expensive than nuclear power.

#26

Carbon sourced energy is indeed the prominent source or climate risk. However, is it important to recognize that energy has both a supply and a demand side to its economic effect. Restricting the question to “renewable energy” supply indicates how skewed the positions are. Both the greatest amount and the lowest cost in carbon output reduction exist on the demand side. Because the U.S. is a culture of more stuff, it is difficult to think in terms of less anything, especially anything that is also profitable. The technology, lifestyle, business, institutional and cost components ARE all possible on the demand side. Unfortunately, thinking outside of this culture-of-more box is a matter of openness to change, creative thinking and commitment. The greater possibilities existing on the demand side will wait until more parts of infrastructure wear out and youth coming along are comfortable living and being embedded within ubiquitous and intricate design and technology. By the end of this century, electricity usage will be 90% less than it is today per capita with safe, comfortable and pleasant lifestyle amenities. We could start now, but we won’t. We can’t even ask the right question.

#25

The world is burning immense amounts of coal today because of a colossal blunder by the U.S in 1993-4, when “we” threw away “green” energy.
I am a DFL Liberal in MN. I opposed Clinton’s nomination because of his well documented “problems” with women. I felt sure these proclivities would damage the Democratic Party – and as it turned out, I was right. His Monica caper gave us G.W. Bush, his trillion dollar 9/11 Wars, and 100,000 or more deaths. What a legacy!
But, strangely enough, it’s worse, and not because of his private habits. It was his failure to heed the strong advice of the two Illinois Dem. Senators and Rep. (now Sen.) Dick Durbin to continue the development of the “IFR”. This was the brilliant invention by the Argonne National Laboratory of the Integral Fast Reactor, the complete answer to all – yes,all – the bad features of current Nuclear Energy. Arguing that “we don’t need any more reactor designs” he pretended to save money by pressuring the House to de-fund it. The shut-down costs were almost as much as completing the project, but without any visible results.
No one noticed – but this has had a dreadful effect on the entire world. It is not too hard to conclude that it has cost/shortened many millions of lives. You can perhaps estimmate the economic effects of failing to create a multi-trillion-dollar industry in the U.S. If you doubt the above, look up “Integral Fast Reactor” in Wikipedia – skip the text, go to the end and click on the External Links. Authoritative info.
You may be as disgusted as I was when I read what we and the world lost. This ranks as the worst blunder in U.S. history – worse than Iraq! But will History notice?
Sooner or later China, India, or most likely Russia (as they operate one to provide heat for desalination) will reveal the secret development of a “wonderful new commercial energy source” (the IFR) that they will sell to the world. Trillions of rubles or euros, and we will be driven further into debd buying our own invention.
Could one imagine the U.S starting a Crash Project to revive the IFR and put it in production, at perhaps a cost of $100 Billion? Cheap compared to the 9/11 Wars, and it would have given G.W. Bush an honored place in history. Cheap compared to a totally worthless effort to propel a human to Mars. And unlike those efforts, it would be an investment that would pay back in multiples, yet produce no carbon dioxide or environmental “damage”.

#24

I add my voice to the chorus I’ve just read.
If we cannot successfully educate the children of the power brokers and the oiligarchy to the realities of land, air and water pollution, along with human population concerns, it will be next to impossible for the Unites States to rally in time to save itself and help the rest of the world.

But, if we could define the terms of engagement: Meaning to create a rational approach for national / global consensus regarding the simple definition of the “terms” involved. – Terms like “Environment”, “Global Warming”, “Economics”, “The Economy”, “Sustainability”, and about 50 or so critical words and phrases that are essential foundations for assessment, and understanding; – Then we might have a chance to actually solve these issues.
– Without simple, non-partisan, agenda-less definitions, it will never happen, and the idiocracy will continue to follow the richest and greediest of the market manipulators.

I’m workin on it. We should all be thinking about what these consensus definitions should be. – I believe the Destination for our society should be Sustainability. (Consuming natural resources at rates no greater than regeneration rates.) Achievable or not, that could guide all our policy decisions. – Somehow the lobbyists and their overlords have to allow for the essential paradigm shifts towards sustainable infrastructure. – Otherwise their kids have no future that isn’t an illusion.

Peace,

#23

The U.S.A certainly is lagging behind. The Obama administration should REALLY push clean domestic projects like solar power and harnassing methane gas from city garbage and dairy farms. It seems, however, that in recent days Obama is backing away from any binding U.S. commitment in Copenhagen. This might well eventually have tragic, even cataclysmic consequences, as the world is looking to the U.S.’s lead in this extremely important matter.

#22

Yes, we are shamefully behind other nations. The US has been lagging for years. The US has not committed to any percentage of reduction by any certain date, yet Obama travels the globe telling everyone that the global climate change is everyone’s responsibility. Why won’t/can’t he commit? He’s the president for gods’ sake. By his noncommittal, that tells me (and actually the EU in particular) that he doesn’t plan to commit to anything. The EU is waiting to hear what Obama will actually commit to and have commented on his lack thereof, all the while (Obama) boasting rhapsodic on the issue. Both the US and China are the highest producers, yet I see China speaking of actual reductions. I have yet to har Obama commit to anything. Obama is good at broad speeches, I’ve come to see, but little of substance. I wonder if we made mistake in voting for him.

The alternative energy field could have been the field that got America back on the grid and ease it’s economic situation, spurring growth and jobs nationwide. Instead, it’s just more of the same and his bla bla bla speeches. I was going to invest in alternative energy companies, now I’m not so sure. Is it Wall Street or is it big US industry (metals, oil & gas, old fashioned ways of doing things) that is keeping us held back?

I would really like to know, I think we would all like to know. Then, we can force activity and responsibility. If Obama doesn’t do something soon, he will find himself with more republicans clamboring after him and breating down his neck, as well as future elections will surely go the other way. I for one, am not so sure I’m going to stay a democrat.

#21

We are dragging our feet, because big corporations get what they want first. It is difficult to see change happening fast in the USA.

#20

The United States keeps crowing that it’s the “leader” of the free world when in fact we’re lagging everywhere. Nothing can happen in America without first having to pay off Wall Street predators. When they’re gauaranteed a cushy pay-off at the top, then and only then can anything happen.

#19

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#18

Obviously political speeches and
‘party games’ does not ward off still mounting environmental dangers and societal disarray. The public contribution could also be in the form of birth rate reductions. This is a many sided matter that ordinary citizens can also commit to make happen.

#17

11/17/09 An economic slow-down is a big pill for Americans and American businesses to swallow -along with the rest of the world- to effect a much needed reduction in usage of fossil fuels, but it appears the indomitable providences at work are demanding a reduction result in one way or another. The need also for concomitant reduction in arms manufacturing and useage, coupled with the need for further fossil fuel refinery and other excessive industrial emmisions are likely to be also further circumstantially underscored. Were there not at hand better ways to ensure a reduction in environmentally destabilizing practices, current economic disclocations could be viewed as being a strictly random cyclical occurrence; but failure to advance through recognition, acceptance and wide usage of concomitantly emerging proffered providences proves unavoidably consequential.

#16

It is urgent that the U.S. make serious efforts toward developing renewable energy. We will be losing the market for new innovations to the Chinese and other countries which will likely make us a smaller player in the world. The standard of living for future americans could be diminished. Irrespective of economical considerations, it must be done for the health of the planet which is deteriorating rapidly. I hope that we will rise to meet this challenge.

#15

with the education this country provides, there should be someone that has the salesmanship of selling jobs back to this country and put millions back to work.and if nothing else, the govt. that ownes all the property of foreclosed farms and machinery could put millions back to work farming for food and bio energy, the whole world needs food. and we got everything we need to make $Trillions. Let’s get to work it is NOT too late, I’m a disabled vet with 37 years experience they threw away and I still know much more than they do.

#14

Dirty coal is in bed with dirty electrical utilities producing dirty air and dirty water for a nation of sheep. These industries have purchased the loyalty of corrupt Republicans and co-conspirator Democrats. The EPA refused to regulate these industries under the Bush fools. Result is a third rate country

#13

Why was my earlier post not posted?
What, to eye opening for site!

#12

Yes we are. We have had the mind set that we can play catch-up at the last minute and save the planet when However, we do not have the technology to save ourselves. We have out sourced everything including all the bright young minds we needed to save us resources, and money.

#11

Nothing well change here in America as long as the egalitarians insure the business of America is theirs, and theirs alone. Other Nations would make loans available to it’s citizens,association and municipalities to harness air energy,solar and tidal wave energy. It well never happen here because we are economically enslaved and worse yet, the only people or international companies that are going to cash in on these opportunities are the ultra-rich and there going to do it with our money through loans provided by our country. We are so dumb ed down by drugs,alcohol and debt, we as a people can”t see the forest for the trees but, Kattie bar the door if and when we wake up to the shame that’s been going on since Vietnam, and oh yes Afghanistan is so much like the Vietnam War it’s scary. They American economist Galbraith predicted in his circle of social evaluation that Capitalism goes into Socialism- Communism and Communism goes into Feudalism-separatism or States,looks familiar given whats happened to the former Soviet Union and America turning into a Socialism. Here the rich are taking from us the most disadvantaged working class people, instead of they other way around.

#10

Absolutely, oil rules. The republican and democratic parties are totally corrupt and only represent the existing corporate interest.

#9

I think president Obama has made Impressive speeches regarding America’s Role in Renewable Energys,and Goin green…but so far..they are JUST Speeches.After 8 yrs of neglect in America..getting anything significant off the ground depends sadly on Politics in America..and well,we know how Partison its become..so,NO..America is NOT doing enough,YET! Sadly, Greed seems to be America’s No#1 Priority.

#8

Well, if you compare the U.S.A. with Denmark, they are far behind

#7

In 1974 we aquired the abibity to build a car that went in excess of 100 miles per gallon, invented by Tom Ogle of El Paso. Five years after his invention, he and his working partner were dead. American auto-makers and oil companies have always stood in the way of progress. Their behavior is beneath contempt. In a better world, we would not have an “energy crisis” or global warming. They were manufactured by big business. We should be miles ahead of any other country in energy savings and environmental protection. Unfortunately, people without power have no voice in the matter.

#6

I have three different solar energy systems on my house-Solar sheet (directly heats air from the sun) was made in Canada, My Evacuated Tubes for directly heating water/hybrid with my boiler were made in China and my PV (electricity)is from several locations-It is shameful that I have now been waiting months and months from my power company, CT Light and Power to be bothered to grid tie my system. Why aren’t all these systems made in the USA?? There is no one watching the “store” as far as fossil fuels and we are still being forced to use oil (or gasoline) and other fossil fuels-I also drive a Prius. Politically I want to get away from empowering the countries selling us oil. When are we going to be able to come to grips with this situation-What happened to the hopes we had in the 1970’s with the gas lines??? I want a strong and clean USA!! I don’t want my teenage sons to go to war!!

#5

We should be leading the world in green energy/alternative energy technologies. But we are dragging our feet, making it hard for the underdevelop nations to do their share. Moreover, if we do not get with it, other nations will take the lead, reaping the profits & savings.

#4

PRES OBAMA IS MAKING A FOOL OF HIMSELF IN CHINA WITH HIS FALSE STATEMENTS CONCERNING ‘GREEN’ EAR AND AIR. THE CHINESE ARE TOO POLITETO REFUTE WHAT HE SAYS.
FIRST OF ALL IN OBAMA’S GROUPIS ALARGE CONTIGENT FROM THE METAL INDUSTRY TRYING TO PERSUADE CHINA TO CHANGE ITS DECISION TO CLOISE MANY SMELTERS WHICH PRODUCE THE WORLD’S LARGEST SUPPLY OF IRON ORE AND COKE. THE US NEEDS THIS DESPERATELY AND CHINA’S DECISION WILL DRAMATICALLY RAISE PRICES CAUSING PROFIT LOSS HERE.
BUT CHINA PLANS TO CLOSE THE SMELTERS DUE TO THE HUGE AIR POLLUTION THEY CAUSE AND THE GROUND COMTAMINATION FROM THE DISPOSAL AND STORAGE OF THE RESIDUE BYPRODUCTS.
OBAMA And HIS BOYS IN CHINA DO NOT WANT TO HEAR THIS. THEN OBAMA STANDS THERE AND STATES HE IS THERE TO SHOW CHINA THE NEED FOR A GREENER ENVIRONMENT. THAT IS WHY THE CHINESE ONLY WANT TO KNOW WHAT OBAMA WILL DO ABOUT TAIWAN. THEY CARE LESS WHAT HE SAYS ABOUT ANYTHING ELSE;I.E CLEAN AIR, PERSONAL FREEDOMS, ETC.
SECONDLY, WE ASK THE CHINESE TO FOLLOW OUR LEAD ON THE ENVIRONMENT, BUT THE U S REFUSE TO SIGN THE GLOBAL TREATY ON THE WARMING OF THE ATMOSPERE.
SO THE CHINESE JUST SMILE AND LISTEN POLITELY FORTHAT IS THEIR WAY.

#3

The coal and oil industries, through the GOP are trying desperately to slow the progress of renewable energy development in the U.S. President Obama needs to provide more economic incentives (like carbon tax) to promote the development and marketing of renewable energy technology.

#2

Good Christ, blaming the United States is a disease. You should have asked that emotionally constipated woman about the dissenters from the global warming religion like Freeman Dyson from Princeton or the Danish scientist Bjorn Lomberg. The Chinese and the Indians don’t need to wait for us. If global warming is so dire, why don’t they proceed. They won’t because they want our middle class lifestyle. They do not want to constrain economic growth for a reward in the distant future when their people need their lives ameliorated today. They are not stupid. As for the global warming apostles like al gore et al. they seek to reap multi millions. You do not upend a large post industrial economy for a problematic benefit. In the meantime, where can i send my increased utility bill?
J.

#1

While America boasts many individuals and individual achievements for progress in the way of renewable energy, it lacks the institutions to throughly promote them as a new and powerful industry. China is simply more focused on using the budding renewable energy industry to strengthen their economy.

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