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Karl Grossman

Karl Grossman

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Renewables Are More Than Ready

Posted: 03/29/11 05:27 PM ET

"Wind and solar are great but strictly supplemental," declared Al Velshi on CNN on March 26 in a report on the nuclear power disaster in Japan.

"You're wrong," environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a guest, shot back. Indeed, Velshi was wrong -- as have so many in media been this week -- in declaring that the choice in energy in the wake of the nuclear disaster in Japan is between nuclear on one side and coal, oil and gas on the other.

In fact, there's no need for nuclear power because there are safe, clean, renewable energy technologies, not coal, oil and gas, here to substitute for nuclear power.

Scientific American, a most conservative scientific publication, in a cover story on October 26, 2009 -- unveiled its "A Plan for a Sustainable Future." It declared in its "Plan to Power 100 Percent of the Planet with Renewables" that, "wind, water and solar technologies can provide 100 percent of the world's energy, eliminating all fossil fuels."

The British magazine New Scientist, in a special October 11-17, 2009, issue on safe, clean, renewable energy technologies -- titled "Our Brighter Future" -- presented a United Nations report declaring that "renewable energy that can already be harnessed economically would supply the world's electricity needs."

From solar to wind (now the fastest-growing and cheapest new energy technology) to wave-power to tidal-power to bio-fuels to small hydropower to co-generation (combining the generation of heat and electricity) and on and on, a renewable energy windfall is at hand.

A while back, I visited the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. In one division, solar power was being used to break down water into oxygen and hydrogen -- with the hydrogen available for use as fuel. "It's the forever fuel," Dr. John Turner, senior scientist at NREL told me. "This uses our two most abundant natural resources -- sunlight and water -- to give us an energy supply that is inexhaustible." In another division, which pioneered thin-film photovoltaic technology (sheets of material embedded with solar collectors that can coat a large building, even a skyscraper, and have the building become a huge power generator), the scientists spoke of solar photovoltaics generating all the energy the world would need. Thin-film photovoltaic is now being widely used in Europe. In the wind division at NREL, scientists were speaking about the advanced wind turbines they have developed and the abundant wind resources all over the world providing all the energy the world would need.

They all might not be right, but together these and other safe, clean energy technologies developed by the 1,000 scientists and engineers at NREL can provide all the energy the world needs.

There's also the division in which technologies to use biomass to produce fuel, not out of food crops but from non-edible vegetation and various waste products. And so on.

Or consider "hot dry rock" (HDR) geothermal. It turns out that below half of the planet, just one to six miles down, it's extremely hot. When naturally flowing water hits those hot rocks and has a place to come up, geysers are formed. But now a technology has been developed that sends water down an injection pipe to hit the hot dry rock below and rise to the surface in a second production well -- which can turn a turbine and generate electricity. Dave Duchane, the HDR manager at Los Alamos National Laboratory, told me: "Hot dry rock has an almost unlimited potential to supply all the energy needs of the United States and, indeed, all the world."

Renewables Are Ready is the title of a book written by two Union of Concerned Scientists staffers in 1999. Today a host of safe, clean, renewable energy technologies are more than ready. Combined, importantly, with energy efficiency, they render nuclear power as unnecessary.

Lester Brown, president of Earth Policy Institute, earlier this year published World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse, which concludes that solar, wind and geothermal energy can provide all the energy the world's needs and he sets forth his Plan B that would implement this. Brown, formerly president of Worldwatch, dismisses nuclear power as too expensive and dangerous.

"The old energy economy, fueled by oil, coal, and natural gas, is being replaced with wind, solar, and geothermal energy," writes Brown. "Despite the global economic crisis, this energy transition is moving at a pace and on a scale that we could not have imagined two years ago." In a chapter titled "Harnessing Wind, Solar, and Geoterhal Energy," Brown details the potential and the technologies for fully utilizing these safe, clean, renewable energy sources. "This transition is now building on its own momentum," says Brown, "driven by an intense excitement from the realization that we are tapping energy sources that can last as long as the earth itself. Oil wells go dry and coal seams run out, but for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, we are investing in energy sources that can last forever."

Instead of a Manhattan Project, the wartime crash program out of which nuclear weapons came -- followed by nuclear power plants, this time let's have a Bronx Project, as Alice Slater of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation has called it -- to fully implement the use of safe, clean, renewable energy.