US potential for renewable energy

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In contrast those in Europe, US renewable energy policies over the past two decades have been an uneven and ever-changing patchwork of regulations and subsidies. Abrupt changes in direction at both the state and federal levels have deterred investors and led dozens of companies into bankruptcy. Embracing the path of renewable energy is not only an environmental necessity, it also makes good economic sense, allowing both companies and individuals to save money, and generating high-wage jobs in a rapidly growing technological industry.

Renewable resources are sometimes dismissed as serious options because it is argued their growth will be constrained by the underlying resource base. In fact, statistics show that the US has a very large resource base for wind, solar, geothermal and other renewables, and the land area required would be modest (see Figure 19.4). Recent studies show that if wind energy technology were to be fully implemented in only three states, it would generate enough electricity to power the whole nation. Similarly, solar energy fully deployed in seven states could supply ten times the nation's energy requirement, and much of this energy could be supplied using rooftop collectors.

If America is to become a world leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and achieving a low-carbon economy, it will need world-class energy policies based on a sustained and consistent policy framework at the local, state and national levels. Under the Bush administration, some progress has been observed over the last five years, particularly the proliferation of ambitious energy-efficiency programs at the state level. These efficiency projects are currently concentrated in four main regions: the West Coast, the Southwest, the Upper Midwest and the Northeast; other regions are poised to follow suit.

Figure 19.4 Comparative amounts of land area required to produce 30 per cent of US electricity using wind power, solar power and geothermal energy

Source: WI and CAP, 2006.

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