News

    Viable Alternatives to Fossil Fuels Still Decades Away

    As the Climate Change talks get underway in Copenhagen this week, there is much attention focused on alternative energy sources that produce little or no greenhouse gas pollution. Some of these energy sources - like wind, solar, biomass and geothermal - are also attractive because they are renewable and offset the need for imported oil, gas or coal. But, it will be a long time before any of these energy sources will be a large-scale alternative to fossil fuels.

    Multimedia

    As the Climate Change talks get underway in Copenhagen this week, there is much attention focused on alternative energy sources that produce little or no greenhouse gas pollution.  Some of these energy sources - like wind, solar, biomass and geothermal - are also attractive because they are renewable and offset the need for imported oil, gas or coal.  But, it will be a long time before any of these energy sources will be a large-scale alternative to fossil fuels.

    Most analysts regard non-fossil fuel-based energies as a supplement rather than as an alternative to traditional energy sources.  Even though their development is expanding rapidly, they provide less than one percent of energy needs.

    At a recent talk at the James A. Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston, Ambassador Richard Jones, Deputy Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, assessed future energy supplies and demand.

    "Modern renewable energy technologies grow," said Richard Jones. "In fact, they see the fastest rate of increase.  But their share of total energy use is so small today that even by 2030, they are only taking about [providing] two percent [of the energy consumed worldwide]."

    But in some green communities around the world, eco-friendly energies are beginning to replace fossil fuels.  In Austin, the capital of Texas, renewable energies are having a major impact.  This fast-growing city gets about a tenth of its electrical power from wind turbines in the western part of the state.

    Roger Duncan is General Manager of the electrical utility, Austin Energy.

    "We get somewhere between 10 and 12 percent of our energy from renewable energy and the remainder from coal, nuclear and gas," said Roger Duncan. "We have plans going forward to get 30 percent of our energy from renewables by the year 2020."

    Most power generation in Austin will depend on fossil fuels like coal and natural gas for decades to come. But Duncan says that as those fuels become more expensive, the outlook for renewables improves.

    "Fossil fuels are cheap today, but rising in cost," he said. "And we expect them to rise further in the future because of carbon constraints.  Some of the renewables are expensive today, but are dropping in cost.  And we expect in a few years, or a decade at least, for them to drop substantially in cost."

    But at least some of the cost of renewables today is offset by government subsidies that are far higher as a percentage for each unit of energy produced than subsidies for oil, gas and coal.

    But Baker Institute energy economist Ken Medlock says the public needs to understand that development of alternative energy through government programs is not free.

    "It is going to cost something to do this," said Ken Medlock. "And at the end of the day, if you push too hard, the cost only rises.  And who ends up paying for that?  Well, it is you and me."

    Medlock says development of renewable sources of energy makes sense because fossil fuels will not last forever.  But he adds that government should take a different approach.

    "If we were to target funds at R&D - basic research and development - rather than implementation of technology that is not quite there yet, I think in the long run we would be much more successful," he said.

    In the coming decades, Medlock says, the United States can use as a transitional fuel abundant natural gas that burns 50 percent cleaner than coal.  But, he says, rapid advances in the effectiveness of technologies such as solar energy could shorten that time frame.

    "At some point, it becomes commercially competitive," said Medlock. "And when that happens, we do not need policy to pick solar versus something else because solar will win out."

    Medlock and other experts say there is a major alternative to both fossil fuels and renewables - the conservation of energy through more efficient vehicles, better constructed homes and office buildings, and better methods for monitoring energy use.  

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolatei
    X
    July 29, 2016 4:02 PM
    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolate

    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Tesla Opens Battery-Producing Gigafactory

    Two years after starting to produce electric cars, U.S. car maker Tesla Motors has opened the first part of its huge battery manufacturing plant, which will eventually cover more than a square kilometer. Situated close to Reno, Nevada, the so-called Gigafactory will eventually produce more lithium-ion batteries than were made worldwide in 2013. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Polio-affected Afghan Student Fulfilling Her Dreams in America

    Afghanistan is one of only two countries in the world where children still get infected by polio. The other is Pakistan. Mahbooba Akhtarzada who is from Afghanistan, was disabled by polio, but has managed to overcome the obstacles caused by this crippling disease. VOA's Zheela Nasari caught up with Akhtarzada and brings us this report narrated by Bronwyn Benito.
    Video

    Video Hillary Clinton Promises to Build a 'Better Tomorrow'

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged voters Thursday not to give in to the politics of fear. She vowed to unite the country and move it forward if elected in November. Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party's nomination at its national convention in Philadelphia. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more.
    Video

    Video Trump Tones Down Praise for Russia

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is toning down his compliments for Russia and Vladimir Putin as such rhetoric got him in trouble recently. After calling on Russia to find 30.000 missing emails from rival Hillary Clinton, Trump told reporters he doesn't know Putin and never called him a great leader, just one who's better than President Barack Obama. Putin has welcomed Trump's overtures, but, as Zlatica Hoke reports, ordinary Russians say they are not putting much faith in Trump.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora