Thursday, March 06, 2008
The Answer is Blowin' in the Wind
In an appearance on NPR's "All Things Considered" yesterday, the Earth Policy Institute's founder and president, Lester Brown, was talking about how the much-heralded hydrogen fuel cell car keeps receding into the distance, like a mirage in the desert. Detroit's auto makers recently moved the much-anticipated arrival of this automotive unicorn back another five years, Brown observed.
But he also noted that the solution to America's petroleum dependency and the myriad problems arising from it is at hand. There is no energy question that can't be answered by electricity, and the cleanest, safest, and cheapest way to produce abundant electrical power has been with us for some time; we simply haven't recognized it.
Back in 2004, Brown described the two steps to energy independence: 1) replacing gasoline-powered passenger vehicles with gas-electric hybrids, and 2)generating the electricity to power this new generation of cars with wind turbines. This would cut our oil consumption in half, freeing us from the tyranny of our addiction to foreign oil. That, article is as timely and pertinent today as it was then, since it chronicles the new, radically lower costs of wind-generated electricity as well as describing the benefits of combining wind power with hybrid technology.
In addition, Brown now reports that all of Europe and North America, whose populations use the lion's share of all energy produced in the world, are finally, slowly waking up to this new reality.
In an article published on the Earth Policy Institute's website on Tuesday, Brown reports that "At its current growth rate, global installed wind power capacity will top 100,000 megawatts in March 2008. In 2007, wind power capacity increased by a record-breaking 20,000 megawatts, bringing the world total to 94,100 megawatts—enough to satisfy the residential electricity needs of 150 million people."
Clearly, the world is discovering "the life that maketh all things new" (Longfellow) in spite of resistance from corporate giants such as the oil companies and auto makers, who remain heavily invested in the old, dirty, destructive, and inefficient methods of energy conversion and application. But there's good news even in the corporate-dominated United States. While Germany still leads the world in wind-generated electricity production, Brown notes that "For the third consecutive year, the United States led the world in new installations, with its 5,240 megawatts accounting for one-quarter of global installations in 2007. Installations in the fourth quarter of 2007 alone exceeded the figure for all of 2006, and the United States is on track to overtake Germany as the leader in installed wind power by the end of 2009. Wind farms are now found in 34 states and total 16,800 megawatts. The electrical output from these farms is equivalent to that from 16 coal-fired power plants and is enough to power 4.5 million U.S. homes. The recent exceptional growth in the United States is largely due to an extension of the wind production tax credit under the 2005 Energy Policy Act."
The whole article makes great reading, and it's nice to share some good news for a change.
I'm still wondering how Congress managed to slip that wind production tax credit past Dubya. He must not have known what he was signing.