Finally — somebody else besides me is addressing the elephant in the room.
University of Cambridge physics professor David MacKay recently wrote a CNN.com commentary saying that energy efficiency and renewable energy, even together, aren’t a total solution – they are only part of a much bigger strategy.
MacKay says Americans consume about 250 kilowatt-hours per day (to help put this in context, one kilowatt-hour is the energy used up by turning on a 40-watt bulb for 24 hours). Think that unplugging your cell phone charger is going to help save the environment? Not so much. That phone charger is about 1/100th of the power consumed by a single light bulb. Or the power used in driving an average car for one second.
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t stress conservation when we can, but MacKay compared it to “bailing the Titanic with a teaspoon.”
In order to have a serious discussion about the role of energy efficiency and renewable energy, MacKay said we need to think about the numbers. Even if energy-efficient technologies cut our consumption in half, it would be crazy to supply our energy use solely with renewable energy. According to MacKay’s figures, we’d need a wind farm three times the size of California just to deliver a day’s worth of energy to the population of the United States – or 1,575 one-gigawatt nuclear power stations.
So I say, let’s embrace all kinds of options. Energy efficiency is great – but it won’t displace the increase in demand resulting from a growing population and a rebounding economy. Renewable energy – while it will grow — won’t be enough to supply America with enough power all on its own, and that’s precisely why we need traditional fuels like coal to be part of our viable solution. We’re going to need to rely on coal for the foreseeable future, and generating electricity from coal is less expensive than other energy alternatives. Plus, we’ve got centuries of it. So let’s keep it in the mix.