Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

What Do You Want?

The tools for change

Kingdom Community Wind in Lowell, Vermont. Photo courtesy of Green Mountain Power.

Kingdom Community Wind in Lowell, Vermont. Photo courtesy of Green Mountain Power.

By George Harvey

The good news is that we have all the tools we need to stop climate change. Not only that, converting to use those tools will almost certainly save us money, improve the environment, save species of animals and plants, and improve our health. In most parts of the country, perhaps all parts, it will also improve employment opportunities.

The bad news is that there are many forces trying hard to prevent us from using those tools. Some of these are being financed, and almost all are being given misinformation, by people and organizations associated with the fossil fuel industry.

We have seen attempts to discredit every form of renewable power. Wind power, the most threatening to the fossil fuel companies, gets the most attention in these attacks. Solar electric power, regardless of whether it is generated on a rooftop, in a field, or elsewhere, has an increasing share. But every renewable energy technology has people and organizations attacking it. And every attack brings comfort to the fossil fuel industry.

Science and mathematics disprove many of the myths of those who attack renewables. Nevertheless, there are two myths that go largely unattended. We should address them here.

It is a fact that solar and wind energy generation are intermittent. The myth is that this matters in the modern world. The truth is that demand for electricity is highly variable, and conventional base-load power plants are too inflexible to accommodate changes in demand. They cannot be turned back at night without sacrificing some ability to meet demand the next day. The remedy for base-load plants happens to be precisely the same as the remedy for intermittent solar and wind power. What additional storage we need for solar and wind may or may not be more than what is needed for base-load power, but backup for local distributed power is often less expensive than the transmission lines we would need without it. Experience with power grids with high percentages of intermittent solar and wind has shown they are both more reliable and less expensive that the old technologies we have had in place.

The second myth is that there is some magic bullet up the sleeves of scientists or government that would stop climate change. Technology takes time to develop, and does not always work in the real world. Scientists have been trying to develop commercially viable nuclear fusion reactors for about sixty years, and have only recently tested one that made more power than it used. They believe a commercial plant is coming; perhaps it will be ready for trials in less than a decade. Perhaps a decade after that, it will be ready to go into production. Perhaps it will take only a decade or two to get into widespread use. We cannot afford to wait that long.

We have the tools we need, and we have the need to use them. The work is underway. But for the sakes of our health and the environment, we need desperately to expedite it.

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