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Nukes, Schmukes: Energy Revolution Forecast By Greenpeace

Greenpeace is out with a new report called Energy [R]evolution: A Sustainable USA Energy Outlook, and given the organization’s history it’s no surprise that the report makes a strong case for getting close to 100 percent renewable energy in the US by 2050. By “close,” they mean thisclose: for starters, the report outlines a pathway for achieving 97 percent of US electricity production from clean, renewable energy sources.

For those of you who classify nuclear energy as a form of clean energy, Energy Revolution will give you plenty to pick apart. That figure of 97 percent from renewables leans heavily on the “new” renewables, mainly wind, solar thermal, and photovoltaic cells. Left out in the cold is nuclear energy.

greenpeace US renewable energy report

Greenpeace Energy [R]evolution report (cropped) courtesy of Greenpeace.

The Greenpeace Energy Revolution Report

The Energy [R]evolution report should be on familiar ground in terms of the technology potential.  The report’s baseline numbers also come from a politically neutral source, the US Energy Information Agency (EIA) 2013 Annual Outlook (that’s assuming, of course, that you don’t decode the .gov in as as “evil plan to destroy America”).

In addition to predicting that about 97 percent of US electricity could be generated by renewable sources by 2050, Energy Revolution forecasts that renewables could provide for about 92 percent of the nation’s overall energy demand, taking heating and cooling into account.

As for economic impacts, the green jobs factor would come into play. Energy Revolution forecasts 1.5 million energy-related jobs in 2030, a full 35 percent more than the 2013 Annual Outlook’s “business as usual” projection. That’s not even counting new green jobs related to remediating and reclaiming derelict fossil fuel operations and other industrial sites.

Energy Revolution also projects a fuel cost savings from phasing out coal and oil to the tune of $6.1 trillion ($153 billion per year), contributing to overall costs about half that projected by the 2013 Annual Outlook.

Not for nothing, but with that nasty Antarctica ice sheet thing in mind the result of all this activity would be to reduce US carbon pollution 39 percent by 2025 and 60% by 2030, which would bring us back down under 2005 levels.

The Energy Revolution And Nuclear Energy

Speaking of carbon pollution, that brings us to the nuclear energy angle. As a zero-emission source, nuclear energy is still part of the Obama Administration’s “all of the above” strategy, but Energy Revolution doesn’t see it that way. The report calls for phasing out nuclear energy entirely at or around 2035.

The problem is that the carbon emissions argument for nuclear energy doesn’t hold up when far less risky zero-carbon alternatives are available.

We saw an example of that dynamic at work here in the US in 2011, when surging wind power production in Texas provided energy giant NRG with a handy excuse to back off from plans to construct new nuclear power plants, right on the heels of the Fukushima disaster.

As for the argument that no other source of “clean” energy can match nuclear energy for reliability, the rapidly emerging market for advanced, utility scale energy storage is delivering a knockout blow to that obstacle.

The Biomass Question

The Energy Revolution does not forecast a key role for biomass moving forward, and a couple of years ago we would have disagreed with that position a lot. At the time, corn and other food-based sources were already being replaced by non-food, hardy crops that could be grown on land not suitable for farming.

Factor in California’s drought and other crop-destroying weather events, and even the hardy non-food angle starts to look a bit shakier today.

On the other hand, the advanced algae biofuel market and the emergence of energy efficient vertical farms show that the biofuel market could be flexible enough to continue increasing its role in the US energy landscape.

What About Electric Vehicles?

Energy Revolution factors in the increased load from electric vehicles, which is a pretty safe bet when you consider the growth in both utility-scale renewable energy facilities and distributed sources at residences, businesses, and institutions.


Also coming into play are efficiency gains in the commercial building energy sector. That would include data-based management strategies such as those supported by the national Green Button initiative, as well as behavior changes.

The report also discusses behavior change, which is a sticky one particularly for the residential sector. However, when you factor in distributed solar there is a direct incentive for residential EV owners/solar owners to get the most juice out of the access to “free” fuel.

As for behavior change on a broader level, the US Army’s Net Zero vision is already providing living examples of the ways that clean tech, energy efficiency strategies, environmental stewardship and behavior change reinforce each other.

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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