Right now – first quarter of 2014 – solar PV and wind together account for roughly 5% of all electricity, or 2% of all energy used in the United States.
Let’s suppose, just to see what is possible, that the United States had an energy policy focused on developing wind and solar, instead of the absurd “all of the above” lack of policy that actually exists. Yes, it would take a different president and a different congress backed up by a strong environmental movement, and we don’t have that – but let’s see what would be possible anyhow.
Let’s say it would take three years to double the amount of installed wind and solar. Faster is actually possible, but we can do the calculation based on a three-year doubling time. 15 years from now is 2029, and we would have 5 doubling times by then. Consequently, we could enter 2030 with 64% of all energy generated from wind and solar. We would be generating, just from these sources, 160% of the amount of electricity we currently generate from these, plus coal, nuclear, natural gas and hydropower.
Yes, things could change just that fast, if we had in place today the policies that would push us in that direction. By 2030, we could close every coal plant, every nuclear plant and every gas-fired generation plant – and we would still have enough electricity left over to take the burden of ground transportation off of petroleum. ‘
In 15 years, we would incidentally end open pit and mountaintop removal coal mining. We would incidentally end uranium mining. We would incidentally end fracking. We would incidentally take a giant bite out of our carbon emissions.
We would incidentally generate not just a lot of electricity, but a lot of jobs in construction and manufacturing. instead of a military-industrial complex, we could have an energy-industrial complex. And of course, nothing says we would need to stop in 2030.
It could be done – if only we had a president who would lead the way, instead of a president who tries to lead in every direction at once. It could be done if we had a congress that works on the policies to make it possible instead of one that works on obstruction. It could be done if we had a strong environmental movement that demands it be done, instead of the weak movement that does not.
It’s possible, but it will never happen if we do not make it happen. There are some technical barriers to overcome, but the political barriers are much more significant.