Former Vice President Al Gore has called for a space race-style plan for the U. S. to produce 100% of its electricity using carbon-free means in ten years:
WASHINGTON (CNN) — The United States should be making all of its electricity with renewable and carbon-free energy in 10 years, former Vice President Al Gore said Thursday.
“The survival of the United States of America as we know it is at risk,” Gore said.
In a speech at Washington’s Constitution Hall, Gore touched on an array of the nation’s current woes, saying the economic, environmental and national security crises are all related.
“I don’t remember a time in our country when so many things seemed to be going so wrong simultaneously,” Gore said.
To begin to fix all the problems, Gore said, “the answer is to end our reliance on carbon-based fuels.”
Gore called on the country to produce all of its electricity from renewable and carbon-free sources in 10 years, a goal he compared to President Kennedy’s challenge for the country to put a man on the moon in the 1960s.
Such a transition is completely unsuited for that sort of crash program. Manned space flight and putting human beings on the moon were engineering problems, well-defined. What VP Gore is talking about is an engineering problem, a business/economic problem, and a political problem. Unlike the space program it would require not only the Congress but the legislatures of all 50 states to act in a timely and effective basis and all pull in the same direction.
The engineering problems are formidable. With the exception of nuclear power generation the means of energy generation are, not coincidentally, not where the people are. That means either you’ll need to move the energy to where the people are—a massive re-working of our energy grid which I suspect would also require some technical breakthroughs—or the people to where the energy is, a political problem of daunting magnitude.
There are other political problems as well. Every Congressman, federal bureaucrat, governor, state legislator, and state regulator would want to put his or her two cents in to the plan. Then there are the hundreds of thousands of local officials.
If the space program had required the cooperation and direct participation of millions of Americans (as this plan would), we’d have never made it to the moon and would still be building cables on Olin King’s kitchen table.
Getting the level of capital investment required for such a plan would be equally daunting, in real dollars dwarfing the space program by several orders of magnitude.
If it could be done by magic, I think that VP Gore’s plan is a great idea. In the absence of magic, I don’t believe it’s doable.
To get some understanding of the scope of what’s being suggested I think it helps to think small. Imagine what it would take just to convert Chicago’s electrical power generation to a carbon-free source. Chicago is a good place to start: 2/3’s of Chicago’s electrical power is already carbon-free nuclear.