80% clean electricity by 2035? Can We Do It?

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Did you watch President Obama’s State of the Union address last night?  He talked about a number of green initiatives including green jobs.  The big green challenge he set forth was for the US to get 80% of its electricity from clean sources by the year 2035.

Now, clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they’re selling.  So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal:  By 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.
President Barack Obama, January 25, 2011 State of the Union Address

I think this is a wonderful challenge for several reasons.

One, it is achievable without needing major technological breakthroughs.  We already have wind, solar, and nuclear to provide clean electricity and if other clean electricity technologies come to fruition in the next quarter century, then all the better.

U.S. Primary Energy Flow by Source and Sector, 2009 – EIA

Two, it is specific about a goal that we can measure.  The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) already collects and reports on this data.  By focusing on electricity, which  as of 2009, was 41% (and growing) portion of the energy consumption in the US, we are tackling a meaningful problem.  Just think what that will look like as we see the electrification of the transportation sector.

Three, it does not pick the solutions.  Governments, including ours, are notorious about picking solutions to problems based on political motivations or even the best intentions of the policy makers who cannot be experts on the topics.  Look how well the Ethanol choice went.  As an engineer, I am glad that the President identified what the solved problem looks like, but will let the innovative capitalistic market we have drive the appropriate and cost effective solutions.

Four, it is a stretch goal.  We cannot move from what is today less than 17% clean electricity to 80% without a nation wide commitment to deploying and utilizing clean electricity generation.  This is our generations mission to the moon.

We can and must meet this challenge!  Tell us your reactions and thoughts from the State of the Union.

Happy Greening!

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