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Google steps up with energy plan

October 2nd, 2008 · 5 Comments

A month ago, Google CEO Eric Schmidt gave a speech outlining a plan for (nearly) eliminating fossil fuels from the US electrical grid in 20 years, stating that it would be a $2.7 trillion dollar effort. Anyone interested in a better energy future would like to hear Eric give this talk in person. (Another slide show to turn into a movie???) Google announced Clean Energy 2030 formally on 1 October with a focus on three core elements:

  • Reduce demand by doing more with less
  • Developing renewable enegy less expensive than coal
  • Electrification of transportation.
  • Not a bad focus, in terms of changing the energy picture in the United States — not just in electricity but in driving down personal transportation reliance on fossil fuel.

    Clean Energy 2030 was put up as a Google “Knol” and is already generating some quite thoughtful commentary. There is much to seize on and support in this proposal. But, as is stated there,

    Our goal in presenting this first iteration of the Clean Energy 2030 proposal is to stimulate debate

    This is a “first iteration” and it merits “debate”. Hopefully, Eric Schmidt and Google will consider putting resources to bring attention to their viable concepts like T Boone Pickens has put into promoting the ‘Good, Bad, Ugly’ Pickens’ Plan.

    Now, something to note, the price has gone up in a month. Eric Schmidt said “$2.7 trillion” as to price tag. Clean Energy 2030, according to its summary, would have a price tag of $4.4 trillion, in 2008 dollars. That over 50 percent increase in just one month is rapid price growth, even by government standards. But, far more importantly,

    Although the cost of the Clean Energy 2030 proposal is significant (about $4.4 trillion in undiscounted 2008 dollars), savings are even greater ($5.4 trillion), returning a net savings of $1.0 trillion over the 22-year life of the plan.

    And that profitability occurs even though it looks as if some quite significant value streams (health, productivity) might not be accounted for in the discussion.

    Anyway, for a quick overview …

    Clean Energy 2030 seeks to drive coal out of the US electrical grid through a serious (and clearly achievable) move toward energy efficiency: 33 percent of efficiencies against the base case of growing power use by 2030.

    Second, a quite serious effort to drive renewable energy. Wind power from 20 gigawatts today to 380 gigawatts of faceplate capacity in 2030 (or 29% of demand). Solar (both PV and CSP) from about 1 GW today to 250 in 2030 (or about 12% of demand). And, geothermal from 2.4 GW to 80 GW (or about 15% of demand — note that geothermal is closer to baseload and its 24/7 means meeting a greater percentage of demand for the same nameplate capacity). In addition, Clean Energy 2030 has nuclear power, hydro, and biomass/municipal waste production. The estimate: 90% of US electrical demand met, with the remaining 10% coming from natural gas (half of NG’s portion of electricity today).

    When it comes to energy efficiency, the basic target: maintaining a flat level of electricity demand, even as driving even more of the light-vehicle fleet to plugs (both plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and electric vehicles (EVs)).

    The plan is a reasonable first start and definitely worth a look. Unlike T Boone Pickens, who sometimes seems like he can’t be force to say the word, energy efficiency is core to the plan — it is holistic with a mix of new energy, changing transportation mixes, and a broad swath of renewable energy options.

    There a broad swatch of gaps in the plan, as its authors understand:

    We have chosen to focus on the electricity and personal vehicle sectors because these are areas where we currently are working.

    And, they provide some examples of gaps after that. Here are some additional gaps that merit inclusion:

  • Electrification of rail. This is a high-value, high-payoff path to cut US oil use by at least 250,000 barrels/day (without even considering moving cargo from trucks to rail).
  • Research agenda: What are arenas for potential ‘break-throughs’ that merit research focus? For example, space-based solar power? Biomass for liquid fuel? (Home fuel digesters.)
  • Related arenas: Some examples of overlapping arenas: Reducing fossil fuel use in agriculture (for example, moving away from natural gas for fertilizer); Water efficiency and impact on energy demand; etc …
  • Missing value streams: There seem to be a wide range of additional value streams that are not accounted for in the plan. Here are two:
  • 1. What are the health care (and other) benefits from reduced coal/other fossil fuel emissions? Are you valuing, in benefits, the reduced asthma, cancer, etc positive implications due to this reduced pollution?

    2. There are very large productivity implications (back to the health) from greeing spaces, greening schools, etc … Are the economic impacts from such ‘green’ productivity improvements accounted for in this discussion?

    In any event, Clean Energy 2030 merits further attention and discussion … which I plan on giving it in the coming days.

    Tags: Energy · climate change · energy efficiency · environmental · google · renewable energy

    5 responses so far ↓

    • 1 “This is Reality”: “Clean Coal” Vaporware // Dec 4, 2008 at 2:55 pm

      [...] Gore has laid out a 10 year plan for eliminating fossil fuels from America’s electrical grid. Google (and CEO/Obama Advisor Eric Schmidt) has laid out a path for doing this in 20 years. (As have I.) Let’s think of this this way: [...]

    • 2 How America Can Break Its Coal Addiction (Or: no, coal isn’t necessary) // Mar 20, 2009 at 3:28 pm

      [...] 2. There are many plans that have come out in the interim that create the space to eliminate coal from the electricity equation. These include Gore’s concept for 100% clean electricity within a decade and Google’s Energy 2030. [...]

    • 3 Green Energy Jobs: Stimulate Me // Nov 19, 2009 at 9:27 pm

      [...] States should drive forward clean energy deployment (whether targeting Gore’s ten year or Google’s 20-year plans for eliminating coal from the electrical grid (or my 20 year plan). Efficiency is a key [...]

    • 4 Shaving away at our fossil foolish addictions … some thoughts // May 3, 2010 at 9:33 am

      [...] Elimination of coal-fired electricity in 20 years in US, 30 years globally.  Google / Get Energy Smart! NOW! standard. This looks to be very doable, with spare capacity if one of the [...]

    • 5 America Can Break Its Coal Addiction! (Or: no, coal isn’t necessary) // Aug 2, 2010 at 11:44 am

      [...] 2. There are many plans that have come out in the interim that create the space to eliminate coal from the electricity equation. These include Gore’s concept for 100% clean electricity within a decade and Google’s Energy 2030. [...]

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