Operations Buzz

Our Energy Grid

April 05th, 2010

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When President Obama recently announced the opening part of our shores to drill for oil and gas, everybody, both from the left and right, was up in arms. The Sierra Club’s response:

“There’s no reason to drill our coasts. We can achieve real energy independence and economic vitality by investing in clean energy like wind and solar and efficiency. This kind of power creates good, lasting American jobs and positions our nation to become a global leader in the new clean energy economy.”

Made me wonder — how do we get our energy now? NPR recently had a wonderful interactive graphic illustrating how different states in the USA source and distribute energy.

For example, West Virginia (click on different parts of the graphic to learn more) uses coal to generate 98% of its energy needs (no surprise here) while Washington sources 71% of its needs from much cheaper hydro power (the Grand Coulle hydroelectric power plant produces about 20 million Mega Watts (MW) a year). From one perspective, Obama’s decision seems reasonable – simply that we lack the infrastructure and the capacity to satisfy our hunger for power from just renewable sources. As the graphic shows, we are heavily invested in coal, oil, and gas for our power. Would offshore drilling in Obama’s plan (he only opens up Delaware to Florida; some parts of Alaska and possibly the Gulf Coast) go towards short-term energy needs and long-term energy independence? We will have to wait and see.

Even the Solar and Wind energy production and transmission lines proposed for 2030 and beyond (click solar and wind power titles on the graphic) will produce only a fraction of our energy needs.

What is needed – and is easily said than done – is a comprehensive energy plan that is climate-friendly (think wind, solar, hydro, nuclear, & efficient CO2 trapping coal plants) that will address long-term energy needs in a secure and green way. In a previous post, I asked Jim McGlothlin, CEO of United Company (coal was a big part of his business until recently) about how we should meet our energy needs in the future. His solution: Nuclear power + turning coal to liquid fuel to reduce dependence of foreign oil. Is he on to something?

For a larger version of the grid, click here.

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