100% of electricity from renewable and non-carbon sources in 10 years

Energy & Sustainability
Al Gore.jpg

As part of the promotion around The Best of Instructables Volume 1, PT offered me a guest blogging spot at Makezine, which I naturally jumped at. This is the first of my periodic posts

In the best talk of the 2008 Web 2.0 Summit Al Gore called for president-elect Obama to make a man-on-the-moon-like pledge to generate 100% of the United States’ electricity from renewable and non-carbon sources within 10 years. Al Gore is truly an amazing orator, and when he got fired up about the climate, renewable energy, energy independence, and how it could play a centerpiece of our economy, I got fired up and so did the rest of the audience.

What really sent shivers down my spine was this observation: When Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon, the average age of the control engineers running the mission from Houston was 26, making them 18 when Kennedy made his pledge in 1960.

Generating 100% of our electricity from renewables and non-carbon sources in 10 years (let’s call it 100-in-10) is the same caliber of challenge, but unlike getting to the moon — which was something only a government could do at the time — building a full economy of renewable energy should be orchestrated by the government, but requires the efforts of countless makers. I seem huge numbers of opportunities, both large and small, to make a difference and have impact. Get an engineering degree and invent a new type of powerplant, design and publish plans for low-cost DIY solar home heaters, be an advocate of renewable products and services.

It’s clear that a lot can happen in 10 years, and even if Obama doesn’t call for 100-in-10, the time to make a difference is now.

This is cross-posted on my site, Instructables, here. The image is (CC) Brian Solis, www.briansolis.com, bub.blicio.us.

23 thoughts on “100% of electricity from renewable and non-carbon sources in 10 years

  1. Phillip Torrone says:

    @eric when i heard “NASA took 8 yrs to get man on moon – when JFK announced lunar program, the engineers who made it happen were 18 yrs old” — it freaked me out too. i hope there’s a new “sputnik” challenge for all of us and the 18 year olds of 2009 rally in the next 8 years.

  2. Bob says:

    Al Gore is a moron. Man-made global warming is a farce. Although, we may get to ‘100-by-10’ if Gore would take care of his health and we can harness his hot air. Oh wait, he is carbon-sourced, so never-mind. Its a nice goal, but unless it is less expensive than oil, it won’t happen.

  3. Phillip Torrone says:

    @bob – i don’t think it’s fair to say al gore is a moron, you might disagree with what he is saying, the data he and others are presenting and the thousands of scientists that also research global warming but please avoid naming calling and attacks, i’ll leave your comment up but next time i’m going to remove or edit.

    i believe the goal is indeed to make our energy source cheaper than oil.

  4. Fredex says:

    He has made himself a multi millionaire off carbon. Wanna buy some carbon credtis? You can buy them from Al’s company. How brilliant he is to create an industry with all the value of pet rocks and then exploit it to make a killing.

    His own carbon footprint looks like it was made by Godzilla.

  5. Phillip Torrone says:

    @Fredex – positive participation is what we try and encourage here, so perhaps you could post up some constructive projects, solutions and people you think are helping the world.

  6. Thinkerer says:

    Hm. Al Gore (who may or may not be making a lot of money on this) versus a quadrillion dollar industry who has the entire planet (lock, stock, barrel, economic, agricultural, political system and military) by the short..er..sightedness. It should be a good wrestling match. The problem with the moon comparison is that you either get there or you don’t, and it’s an original attempt; there’s no “legacy” technology that has to go the way of the dodo. We didn’t have to make a more efficient rocket, we just had to get there in one piece.

    In 10 years there will still be old Dodge Darts (and a bazillion 2-stroke motor scooters) roaming the planet looking for low-lead. A more realistic goal would be to have (X)% of *new* technology non-carbon powered. That number will likely never be 100%, but it can be high and it can be a good and achievable goal.

  7. noway says:

    Coal alone provides 50% of the US electricity, other fossil fuels as well provide a large %. Solar and wind are a joke that cost more energy to put up & maintain than they generate. Nuclear plants will take 10 years at least just to get approved. Unless we luck onto cold fusion in the next 10 years, I say it just won’t happen.

  8. zof says:

    @PT While the message is something, the messenger is almost as important as the message. Most people know Al is the greatest source of hot air on the planet, he only uses research that supports his cause(wallet), plays to people emotions instead of their logic and it is nothing more then a power play on his part any time he says global warming.

    Why people listen to a has been politician instead of scientist is beyond me. Is the planet warming? Yes according to our records it is. Is it human caused? Sure to a point, and that’s the disputed part, just how much is human caused.

    So is it realistic to do this 100 in 10 thing? Not a chance, the space thing worked because JFK put the nations wallet where he spoke. Most power companies are private and telling them 100% even in 20 years would bankrupt most of them. 90% in 20-35 years is a realistic goal, anymore and you are just following Al’s fairy tale.

    Its not safe to hold people like this up above everyone else and call them a god, just look at how well that worked for china.

  9. swild says:

    Putting a man on the moon was a brilliant engineering feat! But look at NASA now. They’re still doing great work, but at exorbitant costs. Yes, look into alternative energy! But let’s let scientists and private industry make the change.

    Take ethanol for example. It was all the rage in congress and the media- until they discovered the side-effects of playing with food production.

    Lets take it slow. Build alternative energy where appropriate and profitable. But look into the consequences, and evaluate what will really help our energy dependencies and what is simply political ploy.

    Granted- Its important to make progress in this field. However, there is no place for liars, profiteers, or politicians.

  10. Phillip Torrone says:

    a lot of snarks and not a lot of positive constructive comments or posting what you’re working on to make things better – 10 years from now will you look back and say “wow, i’m so glad i spent all that time being negative on the internet, it really helped” — or will you look back and say “wow, these were challenging times but we all worked together and things are much better now, i’m glad i did something”…

    al gore isn’t going to solve our problems, scientists and engineers will – JFK didn’t design rockets but he inspired a nation to do more than anyone thought was possible.

    when i talk to kids at maker faires and ask who they look up to al gore comes up a lot, a VP, a nobel prize winner – as a nation we are what we celebrate – maybe al isn’t for you but the challenges ahead are real.

  11. Dock says:

    I’m very certain that you need little to no research if you want cheaper alternatives to oil in say 20 years, because of the rate we find new usable oil.

    And powering our portable devices like cars from batteries is cute but we need to make then 10-20 times as energy dense and produce them at a tenth of the current cost to viable.
    Hydrogen, despite what safety measures are taken with the tubes i don’t really want to have a Hindenburg in my car.
    Ethanol is hard to make from anything but what we eat, we have a food shortage in the world.

    So what remains for energy storage is pretty much methanol.
    It’s biggest con with it is the toxicity and that it can be absorbed through skin. And that it is harder to put in conventional gas engines then Ethanol.
    The pros are that Methanol is easy to make, it can be made from any cellulose from just dry distillation and can also be made with carbondioxide and water in a special kind of reversed fuelcell. This is very useful for energy preservation, after all the biggest problem with renewable energy sources is their inconstancy.

    Produce electricity during the day/windy periods and methanol, and use it in big high temperature/pressure fuel cells during the off time.

  12. Anonymous says:

    The problem with this goal is that the goal itself is not specific as to what is being created and it calls for elimininating technologies.

    Eliminating even a single coal fired powerplant (in my home state Indiana) calls for replacing it with something. Wind-power does not work due to the lack of steady winds, solar power maybe if we can somehow cover 50 square miles or so with panels and have the necessary energy storage, all of the corn in Indiana would not produce enough methanol to replace a single PSI plant,etc. This is not saying that any of these things could not help replace or supplement the power needs, but eliminating coal-fired power plant in 10 years does not work.

    BTW, the man-on-the-moon analogy is a good story, but when you consider the Apollo program used engineers such as Werner Von Braun (who had been building rockets since 1940 or so), that the USSR was working steadily toward a man in orbit since the early 1950s, I really question the idea that it took only 10 years to deliver on this very specific goal.

    Creating one new technology is difficult, going in all directions at once means little will get done.

    If you want to do something about carbon emissions, do something and do not just talk about it ala Al Gore.

  13. Phillip Torrone says:

    al gore isn’t the only one talking about this, and not the only one at the web 2.0 summit talking about this – for the folks who continue to snark in and not offer anything constructive, please review the video and presentations from saul griffith as well as the site wattzon.org – saul is a real scientist, we real data, talking about real solutions.

  14. Scott Saunders says:

    I think the 100 in 10 is a very inspirational idea. There are so many ways we can all use less energy and so many ways to create renewable energy at the regional, local and micro-local levels. I think it’s obvious that we could get close to that goal in ten years.

    It will require a great deal of inspiration. There are (obviously) a lot of naysayers and apparently a lot of people that will huff and puff just because Al Gore is involved. A real attempt at this goal will have to start with getting everyone on board and willing to make a sacrifice or two. The country seems largely unwilling to sacrifice much these days and hasn’t been asked to. I often compare WWII rationing, victory gardens and recycling to the sacrifices we were asked to make for the War on Terror: “Go to Disney World”, keep spending, don’t worry about your credit card debt. That message will have to change, and we’ll have to come together to make this work. People will need to take personal responsibility for the energy they use and the effects its production has on the world.

    The government plays a huge role in energy right now. All we need is a change in the current government energy policy away from tax breaks and subsidies for carbon energy companies toward tax breaks and subsidies for individuals to insulate their homes, purchase low energy appliances, solar water heaters, solar electric systems, etc. That would kick start the green (and general) economy from the bottom up and get the ball rolling. I think that’s a realistic start and would get a lot of people on board.

    With a little conservation at home and at work, and the right government spending, I think we can do it. Makers who know energy should be polishing up their business plans, learning about grant writing, and meeting their local government budget writers.

  15. Firebert says:

    I think it’s odd that the community surrounding this community/blog is supposed to be known for problem-solving, finding solutions, and a general appreciation of scientific endeavor, yet there are so many comments of the “can’t be done” or “science is wrong” vein.

    I hope I’m not alone in finding that odd.

  16. DJFelix says:

    It’s really not fair to post a religious/political article and not expect people to respond accordingly.

    Global warming is a very tough topic to discuss anywhere public. There are an equal number of scientists who will tell you GW is happening/not happening or that it is caused by man / not caused by man. Regardless of what some may pontificate, the science is not “settled.” Far from it. Even the group that Mr. Gore won a Nobel peace with couldn’t agree.

    I am always encouraged when science finds a way to move forward. Cleaner coal, more efficient batteries, safer nuclear power, affordable renewable energy. None of us want to destroy the planet. With that said, none of us want to take civilization and “roll back the clock” to the point that we are all living in mud-huts and eating organically grown wheat grass. (But hey, if that’s what YOU want, go for it. Just don’t force the rest of us to go along for the ride)

    Personally, I don’t believe in man-made global warming. I don’t believe we know enough to make that assumption. We don’t really know how the climate works, and we don’t really have enough data to know if it is “hotter” or “cooler.” It gets hotter and cooler every year … we call it spring, summer, fall, and winter. Ice melts every year, and next year there is new ice.

    What really scares me are plans like the 100-10 plan. That scares me very very much. Part of the reason it scares me, is that in order to achieve those goals, we have to roll back the clock. It’s really that simple. Comparing the 100-10 plan to putting a man on the moon is really comparing apples to supercomputers. It’s not as simple as “working harder” to achieve a 100% dependence on renewable energy. The mission to space involved a small team, all focused on the same exact goal, with a clear chain-of-command and leadership structure. There are so many moving parts in a 100-10 plan, it would take a volume of books, just to plan it, let alone execute it.

  17. Phillip Torrone says:

    @Firebert – the folks sticking to name calling and insults aren’t part of the MAKE community really, they’re part of the audience – audience is always bigger than community and they’re just flipping channels finding one to yell at from the comfort of home and moving on to the next place to be negative. rarely, if ever, is there someone who posts up negative things and is actually doing things.

    it’s ok :)

    we welcome them too.

    MAKE is growing and there are new people here, and new people coming in all the time – as long as they’re constructive they can comment here and hopefully get inspired to do something.

    as far as the 100-in-10 goes, it’s a goal, in a talk, at a conference. we all need goals and inspiration, maybe this isn’t the one or some of you out there but it’s pretty clear that were are going to make a lot of investments in alternative energy, i hope the same energy spent on snarks will be spent on working towards those solutions.

  18. Les says:

    It’s interesting that the energy consumption mainly due to the manufacturing and use of technology initiated by the space race is now blamed by some to have wrought the potential destruction of life as we know it. Yet the technology has also spawned things like improved solar and fuel cells.

    The most charismatic leader could propose the goal of traveling to a neighboring galaxy within the next decade, but don’t call those who would consider it unworkable “negative thinkers.”

    Instead of a government giveaway based on a crisis, real or contrived, let’s encourage the spirit of inventiveness and the free markets that have marked those who enjoy the greatest freedoms and standards of living (including those fortunate enough to have the free time to tinker with microcontrollers and blinking plushies).

    I just did a Google search for (the exact phrase) “greatest government plan” and “greatest government funded plan.” Hmm. And try to get something positive from a search for the phrase, “government orchestrated.”

    If you want to go back to the thermostat, sweater and speed limit mentality of the 1970s, that’s great. But people are motivated by improving their quality of life. And when they see that they can live just as well, or better, while not giving up their income, conveniences, prime rib and breathable air, THEN there will be change for the better for all.

    Is there another Tesla out there on this front? Give us a plan, a product, and a reasonable price for it. I won’t begrudge your making billions from it. But don’t be surprised if you find yourself swimming upstream because of those who would make sure you “spread your wealth,” and that you’re punished if you make a large “carbon footprint” in developing it.

  19. Bruce says:

    Yep! With Gore saying that we can do it in 10 years, having 100% non carbon fuel using renewable resources, and Obama then saying that he will put legislation out that will bankrupt all those who do business with coal, what do you think will happen to our economy? I think that it will go right down into the sewer. Which is where it is currently headed due to incompetent idiots that we seem to reelect over and over again and again.

  20. Phillip Torrone says:

    @Bruce – the economy isn’t doing well right now, i would say it’s on the verge of what could likely be called “bankruptcy” and needs a lot of help.

    the auto industry is in crisis, so is banking, finance and many other sectors. we have the highest unemployment in 14 years. we have a couple wars going on too.

    the same type of thinking that got us in to this mess isn’t likely to get us out of it.

    how about working on constructive things to move us forward? nothing is going to be solved with speeches or with internet snarks, real projects – real efforts… and luckily there’s a few places and people devoted to just that, join in :)

  21. zieak.com says:

    Lots of negativity.

    To those worried about coal or oil companies going bankrupt… I had ancestors that ran horse carriages and steam engines. Times change and people and businesses need to move on. If the only reason we’re still using 100 year old engine technology is because of a strong lobby then we’re holding ourselves back for the wrong reasons.

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