A Sustainable USA Energy Outlook
Greenpeace | March 2009
In the Energy [R]evolution U.S. Scenario, Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council (Europe's largest renewable energy trade association) posed a simple but daring series of questions. First, is it possible, using currently available technologies, to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions worldwide to the levels needed to prevent the worst effects of global warming? Second, can we do it while also achieving strong economic growth? Third, since the dangers of nuclear waste and proliferation pose similar existential threats to humanity as global warming itself, can we also phase out all nuclear power by 2050? And, finally, can we do it here in the U.S.?
Of all the sectors of a modern economic system, the one that appears to be getting the maximum attention currently is the energy sector. While the recent fluctuations in oil prices certainly require some temporary measures to tide over the problem of increasing costs of oil consumption particularly for oil importing countries, there are several reasons why the focus must now shift towards longer term solutions. First and foremost, of course, are the growing uncertainties related to oil imports both in respect of quantities and prices, but there are several other factors that require a totally new approach to planning energy supply and consumption in the future. Perhaps, the most crucial of these considerations is the threat of global climate change which has been caused overwhelmingly in recent decades by human actions that have resulted in the buildup of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the Earth's atmosphere.
Impacts of climate change are diverse and serious, and unless the emissions of GHGs are effectively mitigated these would threaten to become far more serious over time. There is now, therefore, a renewed interest in renewable sources of energy, because by creating and using low carbon substitutes to fossil fuels, we may be able to reduce emissions of GHGs significantly while at the same time ensuring economic growth and development and the enhancement of human welfare across the world. As it happens, there are major disparities in the levels of consumption of energy across the world, with some countries using large quantities per capita and others being deprived of any sources of modern energy forms. Solutions in the future would, therefore, also have to come to grips with the reality of lack of access to modern forms of energy for hundreds of millions of people. For instance, there are 1.6 billion people in the world who have no access to electricity. Households, in which these people reside, therefore, lack a single electric bulb for lighting purposes, and whatever substitutes they use provide inadequate lighting and environmental pollution, since these include inefficient lighting devices using various types of oil or the burning of candles.
Future policies can be guided by the consideration of different scenarios that can be linked to specific developments. This publication advocates the need for something in the nature of an energy revolution. This is a view that is now shared by several people across the world, and it is also expected that energy plans would be based on a clear assessment of specific scenarios related to clearly identified policy initiatives and technological developments. This edition of Energy [R]evolution Scenarios provides a detailed analysis of the energy efficiency potential and choices in the transport sector. The material presented in this publication provides a useful basis for considering specific policies and developments that would be of value not only to the world but for different countries as they attempt to meet the global challenge confronting them. The work carried out in the following pages is comprehensive and rigorous, and even those who may not agree with the analysis presented would, perhaps, benefit from a deep study of the underlying assumptions that are linked with specific energy scenarios for the future.
Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri
DIRECTOR-GENERAL, THE ENERGY AND RESOURCES INSTITUTE
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