A vision for an all electric America

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President,
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

In their book, All Electric America, S. David Freedman and Leah Y. Parks declare that renewable energy sources can provide us with all the energy we need to run our economy. Their perspective is tempered by Freedman’s 40 years as an energy policy maker and utility CEO. They call for an energy transition that occurs quickly enough to prevent runaway global warming. Wind and solar energy alone are depicted as sufficient to meet all of our energy demand far into the future.

In order to limit total greenhouse gases enough to stay under the 2oC temperature increase all four sources of major emissions including electric, building heating, transportation and industrial uses must be dramatically reduced. By reducing the use of fossil fuels at a rate of 3 percent per year and installing renewable energy capacity at an appropriate rate the economy could be emission free by 2050. The authors claim this transition to a renewable energy future with energy storage can be done at costs not exceeding those of oil, gas and nuclear options.

While the need to curb emissions of climate changing gases is a major driving force supporting renewable energy sources, falling costs of renewable energy and energy storage add to their appeal.

The transition would primarily rely on the use of efficiency, conservation, solar, wind, hydrogen, heat pumps, energy storage and electrified transportation. The technologies are robust and cost effective and can be integrated to provide reliable energy services locally.

On a national scale California is leading the transition to a renewable energy based economy. They hope to reach their goal of 50 percent renewable energy by 2030 ahead of schedule. A local installer who is also active in California reports new homes there are built to accommodate solar PV systems.

While there are multiple installations of renewable technologies in Illinois they are not near the scale necessary to meet the goal of being emission free by 2050. The state appears unlikely to meet its 2016 target of 11.5 percent for electricity from renewable sources.

The goal of limiting oil, coal and gas combustion is an enormous challenge given the fossil fuels remaining in the ground. Fossil fuel industries supply profits, dividends and jobs and continue to provide powerful opposition to a transition to renewable energy. Their vision embraces all available energy options including nuclear power along with technologies to reduce the release of climate changing gases to the atmosphere or capture and store them underground.

Illinois existing renewable energy standards call for 25 percent of our electric consumption from renewable sources by 2025. Efforts to meet that goal have stalled so our energy future remains clouded. As pointed out by Peter Maloney in a recent article in Utility Drive legislative conflicts remain regarding increased subsidies for nuclear power reactors, financing renewable energy development and whether to grant Commonwealth Edison the right to build electric vehicle charging stations, energy storage facilities and microgrids as other firms have been active installing such facilities.

The outcome of this legislative battle holds important implications for the role of renewable energy and efficiency in Illinois. While an all-electric future appears technologically feasible, its timely arrival requires massive public support. An important aspect of public support includes individuals making a transition to renewable energy sources in their own lives.

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