Tuesday, April 25, 2006

US Behind on Windpower

We in the United States like to think of ourselves as technologically advanced but all too often the reality is that politics and vested corporate interests get in the way. We should be leading the world in alternative energy technology but in many ways we're not. We should be leading the world in environmental technology which is clearly going to be increasingly important in the coming decades but we are dragging our feet. Even Detroit is falling behind the times.

Republicans have spent much of the last twenty-five years coddling the oil companies. And it shows. We are the largest user of energy in the world and one would think that we would protect ourselves and that our energy would be broadly diversified. But our sources of energy are not nearly diversified enough. In 2004, about 86% of our energy came from fossil fuels. Only about 6% of our nation's energy came from renewable sources. Some 2.7% of renewable energy comes from conventional hydro power and the US, within reason, has just about utilized all the hydro power it can. So, outside of conventional hydro power, only a little more than 3% of our energy comes from renewable sources. If we are to have a future, that needs to change.

One realistic source of more energy is wind. Germany has a population of around 82 million and yet the total power its windmill farms produce is twice that of the United States. Per capita, the wind power of Germany is more than seven times that of the US. With 40 million people, Spain also produces more wind power than the US. We are number three in wind power production in the world but a number of other countries pass us in power generated by wind per capita. The leader is Denmark which produces per capita roughly 20 times what the US produces from its own wind power. We are making progress but we can hardly claim to be leading the way. That requires leadership and when it comes to energy, the United States cannot depend on Bush or other Republicans to lead the way. We will continue to need fossil fuels for many decades to come; the oil companies will make their profits and do not need special help. But if we are to develop other sources of energy, we as a nation need to invest in our future and developing those other sources cannot be left to the oil companies.

For the record, when Bush talks about hydrogen power, he is primarily referring to a process that strips hydrogen from coal or other fossil fuel products. That is not a method that will lead us to energy independence or a cleaner world. We need a real energy policy, not public relations pacifiers.

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