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Sierra Daily

Jan 19, 2011

Thinking Big

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Oil Barrels, 2008 (60 x 60 inches)
Depicts 28,000 42-gallon barrels, representing the amount of oil consumed in the United States every two minutes. Photo illustration by Chris Jordan, courtesy of Kopeikin Gallery

In the current issue of Sierra I take a look at what it would take to get the United States Beyond Oil in 20 Years--a lively discussion of which is ongoing in the comments section. Turns out that I may have been thinking way too small, because here's National Geographic Daily News talking about Going "All the Way" with Renewable Energy--i.e., what it would take to get the whole globe off fossil fuels in the next few decades. National Geo bases its story on research by Mark Delucchi, of the Institute for Transportation Studies at U.C. Davis and Mark Jacobson of the civil and environmental engineering department at Stanford, published last month in Energy Policy, here and here. Eschewing coal and oil--as well as biomass and nuclear--the authors argue, would pretty much solve the world's unemployment problem for some time, because we'd need:

  •  4 million giant (5 megawatt) wind turbines,
  • 90,000 large scale (300 MW) solar plants, and
  • 1.7 billion 3-kilowatt rooftop solar systems.

And that's not to mention quintupling production of rare earth metals to make all those electric motors. Obviously we are very far away from such a project at present, but it's not because we don't know what to do. "Technically you can do it," writer Mason Inman quotes Jacobson. "It really depends on will power."

--Paul Rauber

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