I’ve begun thinking that one of the defining questions for clean energy is, “What’s the plan?” Not a company plan, but a country plan — one that realistically maps us to an economy that gets the vast majority of its energy from wind, solar, geothermal, and that has us drastically minimizing waste.

Amory Lovins has taken a shot at it in “Reinventing Fire,” which I’m working my way through at five pages a night (a comment on my lifestyle, not his writing). Other examples? Google has its “2030 plan,” Al Gore has his Energy Challenge, and two California university professors laid out their suggested “Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030.”

The most recent version of a plan for transitioning to a clean energy economy is the detailed “Renewable Electricity Futures Study” by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). This study finds that “[r]enewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today…is more than adequate to supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050 while meeting electricity demand on an hourly basis in every region of the country.”

This study reinforces to me that the question isn’t whether clean technologies can meet most or all our electricity needs in the future (They can.) The bigger question is how we get there.

I’m looking for the plans that try answering that question (readers, tell us if you’ve heard of one).

We recently had New York Times national energy reporter Matt Wald in for a Scaling Green Communicating Energy Lecture Series appearance. After 5,557 stories for The New York Times (an undercount — you can only search back to year seven of his career with the paper!), I asked Wald if he’s seen or been pitched on the transition plan that gets us to a vast majority of the nation’s energy needs (electricity and transportation) coming from solar, wind, geothermal and energy efficiency.

His answer: “No.”

In Wald’s view, the challenge to a clean economy transition isn’t just cheap natural gas, it’s renewables’ relationship with the power grid – really the absence of an integrated, updated continental-scale power grid to move electrons from where they’re produced to wherever they’re needed, whenever they’re needed. The NREL report addresses that point, saying 80% renewables reliance using today’s technologies would require “a more flexible electric system.”

But is the challenge of the grid really a deal breaker, as Wald seems to believe? NREL says it isn’t, that in fact “a variety of technical and institutional solutions exist to help proactively meet these [grid] challenges.” NREL even maps the clean energy generation here. We’re already seeing these solutions starting to materialize through the work of companies such as Trans-Elect, which is building a transmission line off the East Coast to service wind farms from New York to Virginia.

But for all the debate among politicos about which source of energy is the right investment for the U.S., progress continues for renewables — and their fate ultimately may be settled on the grid, not on the political airwaves.

This post originally appeared at Scaling Green and was republished with permission.

Comments

  1. Vicente Fachina
    Brazil
    September 1, 2012, 6:31 pm

    Hey Braiden, I´m just a researcher on ocean thermal energy in Brazil…Your text seems to be sort of a desperate one…Go for a patent and then seed money from venture capital for a 1 MW prototype for instance.
    I ask you to get to know the Chester Carlson´s story on how his 1938 invention turned a 1950´s company (Haloid) into Xerox in 1960´s…

  2. gregfullmoon
    New Zealand
    August 30, 2012, 5:59 pm

    Hey Braiden, get over it and open source it. Open Society will honour you for being a great guy. Also this saves you getting shot by some hiring from a large energy company that like things as they are.. go well man.

  3. Braiden Nash
    Ogden, Utah
    August 30, 2012, 2:05 am

    Im looking for a way to put my clean infinite amout of energy (electricity) to market and get a paten for. I have a generator that is the size of a computer tower. It does not use any fuel or source of power to run, IT RUNS ON ITS SELF. It will supply a fully functioning 5 bed home with what ever it may need for power and will also supply another home half that size at the same time. Iam not blowing smoke I have made it and the power company pays me 200 plus a month cause of the power I put back in the line when im not usuing it for use. If you really want to have a free emission, pollution, and the cleanist source of energy ever. I also have a car that runs off this generator and will never be recharged and will run for ever and can be put into any vehicle I mean any car, truck, van and suv.Never ever touch a drop of gas,I can drive from Washington, California, Texas, Florida, Maine, Ohio, back to Washington without having to stop fill up or replace any mechanical problems. If theres a way for you to help let me know. I will not deal with the government to have it stolen, and that is why they will not sign my protection of privacy and hush hush that is notery and lawyered.If you want to see it sign the paper and all your info. Sorry im protecting myself from being robbed.