26 January 2011

80 Percent Clean Energy by 2035? I'm Skeptical, Mr. President

Source: AE2011, US EIA
I missed President Obama's State of the Union address last night because I was meeting with the good people at Investor's Circle.

On my way home, however, my Twitterstream was all abuzz  about the President's shout-out to a clean energy future.

Did he really commit to "80 percent of America's electricity will come from clean energy sources" by 2035?

Apparently, he did. It's right there in the transcript (along with a liberal sprinkling of the word "applause").

While many applaud the sentiment, some of us remain skeptical about the feasibility of such a target.

Don't get me wrong, I agree with two of the statements the President made on clean energy. The first is, "clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they're selling."

True enough. And it is also true that industry needs a clear signal on the price of carbon or the regulatory constraints they will face. Still to be determined how we get that, and no mention of it last night.

I also agree with the President that we need it all: wind, solar, clean coal, natural gas...and nuclear.

But 80 percent renewables clean energy by 2035? Well, I'm skeptical.

Even our own US Energy Information Administration's Annual Energy Outlook for 2011 (AE2011), released late last year, projects that renewables will climb to only 14 percent by 2035. This does not take into account natural gas, which they project will climb to 25 percent, or nuclear, at 17 percent.

If you take an inclusive view of clean energy, that adds up to 56 percent by 2035. With coal at 43 percent in the AE2011 (and the last one percent coming from "oil and other liquids") making up the difference, I'm assuming a large chunk of that is going to have to become -- rather quickly -- clean coal.

And by the way, China, with its aggressive investments in clean technologies, has set a goal of 15 percent of its energy from renewables by 2020 and 30 percent by 2050.

So forgive me if I remain skeptical about the 80 percent target. I'd prefer to see a realistic plan, with real targets, real investment (public and private), and a real demonstration that the political will exists to make it happen.

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