Al Gore Prioritizes Energy Innovation

By John Addison (10/12/09). Vice President Al Gore is optimistic about a meaningful agreement in Copenhagen that includes the United States and China. During his keynote speech at the Society of Environmental Journalists Conference (SEJ) in Madison, Wisconsin, he acknowledged that negotiations are going slowly, because climate change is complex and involves consensus of almost all nations, but that a new agreement is likely.

The need for a global agreement is urgent as the burning of coal and oil heat the earth. Melting glaciers and depleted aquifers make healthy water scarce for more Americans and unavailable for a billion people. Draughts are causing damage to many states. Lack of water affects the ability to grow food. Interrelated eco-systems are showing their stress and the problems are starting to get visible on Main Street. Mr. Gore observed, “Never before in human history has a single generation been asked to make such difficult and consequential decisions.”

Mr. Gore stated, “We’re borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that’s got to change.”

At SEJ, I asked Vice President Gore about the most promising innovations to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels such as coal and oil. Mr. Gore identified a number of areas where Americans are innovating.

Energy efficiency tops his list for innovation that is making an immediate impact. Many new buildings have a fraction of the greenhouse gas emissions of the buildings they replace due to innovative design, materials, windows, and water management. Older buildings are made more energy efficient with better insulation.

Mr. Gore identified wasted heat as an underestimated opportunity. He sees room for significant innovation in combined heat and power and in the reduction of wasted heat.

Super Grid will Spur Innovation

He sees the super grid as an opportunity for a high level of efficiency. The super grid envisions a national network of high capacity electricity transmission. It would include energy storage, high reliability, and smart grid intelligence. High voltage lines have far less energy loss than lower capacity. A super grid could deliver much of America’s needed energy from untapped wind that blows in middle states from the Dakotas to Texas. Super Grid Wikipedia Description

Mr. Gore feels that a super grid could bring a transformation comparable to the Internet. The super grid and smart grid technology is already attracting major investments from firms like KPCB where Al Gore devotes part of his time as a partner. KPCB Greentech Portfolio He pointed to energy storage and demand response as major super grid areas of opportunity.

A portfolio of renewable energy solutions can power the nation according to Mr. Gore. Wind supplied 40 percent of the incremental energy added in the United States in 2008. Concentrating solar power is another renewable that is promising where up to 15 hours of energy storage, such as molten salt, can be used. Vice President Gore sees the greatest innovation in solar photovoltaics as a “distributed distribution architecture” is put in place.

Enhanced geothermal at one to two kilometers underground has the potential to meet our need for baseload grid power. Gore said, “There is an estimated 35,000 year supply of enhanced geothermal to meet U.S. energy needs.” This industry will benefit from the drilling and drill bit innovation existing in the oil and gas industries.

Historic Transformation of Automobile

In the future the need for getting baseload power from coal will be diminished by grid energy storage innovation. Gore said, “There will be a historic transformation of automobile fleets to and plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles. That vehicle fleet will serve as a massively distributed battery.” Electric Vehicle Reports

He continued, “Innovation of battery storage is likely to be extremely significant.”
Video of Vice President Gore’s discussion of energy solutions.

New Climate Agreement in Copenhagen

“We have all the tools to solve three or four climate crises.” Vice-President Gore expressed a level of optimism that surprised a number of the 500 journalists in attendance. He is optimistic that the Senate will approve some form of the Boxer-Kerry legislation and that it will be Conference Committee pending when Copenhagen convenes. It will have compromises that will discourage some environmentalists and some business interests. Gore said, “The large number of defections from the National Chamber of Commerce is a sign that business leaders want to be part of the solution.”

He reminded those concerned about a climate crisis that in 1987 the Montreal Protocol was also criticized as too weak. In Montreal, Canada, on September 16, 1987, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was signed into agreement by 24 major countries of the world, including the United States. These countries recognized that it was critical to be leaders, rather than wait years for all nations to agree. The agreement was ratified and then signed by President Ronald Reagan.

A process for nations to phase-out production of dangerous CFCs and halons was established. Developing countries were giving extra years to comply. Years later the agreement was strengthened in Copenhagen. Now 191 nations have agreed to the Montreal Protocol and are phasing-out the destructive gases from China to Chile and from India to Indonesia.

The Montreal Protocol is proof that the major nations of the world can agree to stop destroying our atmospheric shield.

A new climate agreement in Copenhagen would accelerate innovation and growing commercial success of efficient buildings, fuel efficient transportation, a transformative super gird, and renewable energy.

Mr. Gore’s new book – Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis – will be available November 3. It will include the important role of innovation in reducing our dependency on fossil fuel.

The complete audio recording of the speech can be heard on the Society of Environmental Journalists.

By John Addison, author of the book – Save Gas, Save the Planet – now selling at Amazon and other booksellers.

3 replies
  1. miggs
    miggs says:

    Kudos to Gore for talking about the huge opportunity of combined heat & power, and using waste heat. EPA and DOE estimates suggest there's enough recoverable waste energy out there to slash U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 20%. That's as much as if we removed every passenger vehicle from the road. Meanwhile, costs would fall due to increased efficiency.Full disclosure: I'm associated with Recycled Energy Development, a company that does this kind of work. But the reason I'm involved is the massive opportunity. We should be doing much more of this.

  2. Eric Heinzman
    Eric Heinzman says:

    Mr. Gore on this issue is simply the embodiment of leadership! The fact that he happens to be right (in my opinion, of course) is only half of it. That he continues on despite the ridicule and scorn of the naysayers should be a lesson to us all.I'm particularly intrigued by the possibilities for innovation that a full national commitment to the super grid promises.

  3. Jerry Dycus
    Jerry Dycus says:

    I agree with All mostly though not so much on the supergrid. The money could be better spent on small RE. Here is how to do this better. We can have a stimulus that costs almost nothing to the taxpayer, in fact paid a lot by Iran, Russia, oil dictators!!How is start up loans for RE companies and energy eff ones. Let most anyone with a good business plan through the SBA get start up loans to build or install home, small business size windgenerators, solar CSP unit, CHP, small lightweight, aero 3 wheel EV's, etc. Then loans to buy, install, etc these.Loans for home, building eff upgrades from windows, insulation, etc are next. This would put construction, material workers back to work.All these can be paid for in energy savings in 5 yrs so no new income costs either. This will create about 3 million jobs directly and probably 6 million indirectly of people supporting them.Next is a fossil fuel tax to pay their full cost of the direct, indirect subsidies we already pay in our income tax, health care, etc. it's time those who make, benefit from those costs to pay them It should be a $1.50/gal on oil and about double the price of coal.But you say a tax will kill the economy. Not if it's put in over 2 yrs at 4% each month and loans given to buy more eff cars, etc to cut people's costs. Switching trucks, semi's to NG is very cost effective now being under 50% of the cost of diesel/gasoline. This can in 5 yrs cut imported oil needs.The beauty of this is oil, coal will drop in price making Iran, Russia, oil dictators pay most of the oil tax, coal is only 25% of your electric bill so it won't go up much.But new, more eff cars, trucks, EV's, PHEV's and mass transit will create more new jobs too.The fossil fuel tax revenue, 1/3 would go to a tax cut so those people paying it have the extra money needed if they continue to use the same amount or better, use less and have extra income, the more likely outcome. 1/3 to to help switching to more eff cars, trucks, homes, buildings and 1/3 to balance the budget fossil fuels have been a large part in making.So this program would have a net increase of about 8-10 million jobs of both direct and supporting those who have the new jobs, solve our imported oil problem, let us leave the Persian gulf between the 2 are about $1T/yr in a few yrs if we don't, stop subsidizing our enemies, oil/coal corporations and balance the budget. All at little cost to the gov, in fact get rid of our debt on our children and make our country strong again.Or we will be broke, at war, our enemies strong and we will be weak. To me it's the only real patriotic way to go.

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