Carnegie Mellon Professor Lester B. Lave recently testified at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in Washington, D.C. The topic: an amendment requiring retail sellers of electricity to use new renewable energy resources for certain percentages of their electric supply.
Lave addressed both the challenges and the feasibility of implementing a renewable electricity standard.
"My greatest concern for electricity generation is abating carbon-dioxide emissions. Without controls, we will run out of atmosphere before we run out of fossil fuels," Lave told the committee. "The world has used only 6 percent of the 5,000 billion tons of fossil fuels. Burning any appreciable fraction of the coal, oil and natural gas resources will send atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations to far greater levels than humans have experienced and lead to major global climate change."
He added, "Global climate change, not our stock of fossil fuels, limits how much electricity we can generate from these fuels."
He urged the committee to focus on letting the alternative technologies compete to achieve the goals of reducing carbon-dioxide emissions, generally improving environmental quality, increasing energy security and sustainability, and lowering electricity prices.
While renewable energy may achieve many of these goals, allowing technologies to compete is likely to find even better ways to meet America's energy needs, according to Lave.
Already, renewables account for almost 3 percent of U.S. electricity production and will probably surpass the committee's proposed 4 percent target by 2011, according to industry analysts.
Lave also recommended that committee members tighten the definition of efficiency and eliminate the limit on energy contributions so regions with scant wind and solar resources can meet legislative goals at a lower cost.