Gore’s Audacious Goal: Carbon-Free Grid In Ten Years

Al GoreFormer Vice President Al Gore is set to give a major energy policy speech today, in which he will challenge “the nation to produce every kilowatt of electricity through wind, sun and other Earth-friendly energy sources within 10 years, an audacious goal he hopes the next president will embrace.” Gore is speaking at noon at the Daughter of the American Revolution Constitution Hall in Washington D.C.

The electricity sector is the largest producer of greenhouse gases in the United States, with its fossil-fired power plants and an obsolete power grid generating one-third of all our global warming emissions. Gore’s “unprecedented challenge” is a “moonshot” goal, but it is also on the scale of what is needed to avoid climate catastrophe. To stabilize the climate, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that industrialized nations need to cut emissions to 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels. For the United States, whose emissions have risen 15 percent since 1990, that goal translates to 34 to 48 percent below today’s pollution. Transforming the grid would cut global warming pollution by 33 percent from current levels by 2018 — what we need for an even shot to halt our global fever.

Emissions by sector
Moving to all clean electricity would likely spur related reductions in the transportation sector, as the new “smart grid” of electricity distribution designed for renewable sources such as solar and wind power would be able to use plug-in hybrid vehicles for distributed electricity storage. Instead of everyone reliant on a few massive power plants controlled by large utilities, the system would allow both large and small-scale electricity production and storage. The giant wind farms of T. Boone Pickens would be complemented by millions of solar roofs, all feeding into the same dynamic electricity network.

Interestingly, the goal was announced in an interview with the Associated Press’s Ron Fournier, famed for his chatty relationship with Karl Rove. Fournier strangely mentions “ozone-killing coal plants,” though it is carbon dioxide, not ozone, that is the primary greenhouse gas produced by coal plants. However, Fournier’s mention of ozone does point out one of the significant corollary benefits to moving to clean energy — the elimination of the health threat of traditional pollution from coal plants, which cause about 24,000 premature deaths a year.

UPDATE: At Dot Earth Andy Revkin has the full text of Gore’s prepared remarks. Gore says of the simultaneous troubles of our economy, national security, and climate:

Yet when we look at all three of these seemingly intractable challenges at the same time, we can see the common thread running through them, deeply ironic in its simplicity: our dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels is at the core of all three of these challenges — the economic, environmental and national security crises. 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. But if we grab hold of that common thread and pull it hard, all of these complex problems begin to unravel and we will find that we’re holding the answer to all of them right in our hand.

CNN asks: “Is Gore relevant? Is anyone listening to him? Should we listen to him?”

Gore’s We Campaign is almost 1.4 million strong. Here’s another excerpt from Gore’s clarion call:

The survival of the United States of America as we know it is at risk. And even more — if more should be required — the future of human civilization is at stake.

UPDATE II: EnergyEnvironment TV, a service of PoliticsTV‘s, has the video of this landmark speech. Watch it:

At Daily Kos, Jerome Guillet writes:

While a goal of 100% of carbon-free electricity is probably unrealistic, it therefore seems possible to get pretty close to that, especially if nuclear and hydro are included in the mix. A plan that announced a specific goal of 40-50% of wind-generated electricity by 2020 and 10-20% of solar, with the appropriate feed-in mechanisms, demand guarantees for manufacturers and investment in the grid would therefore be realistic, make economic sense, and fulfill two major strategic goals: reduce carbon emissions, and lower fossil fuel demand.

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