United States Has Vast Renewable Energy Potential, Says Report

Senator Jeff Bingaman
Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico applauded the American Energy report.

The Worldwatch Institute and the Center for American Progress (CAP) launched a report Monday detailing the progress and potential of renewable energy in the United States. According to the report, “American Energy: The Renewable Path to Energy Security,” technologies that harness renewable energy sources—including wind, solar, geothermal, and bio-power—are or soon will be cost-competitive with conventional fuels. And while renewables provide just 6 percent of U.S. energy today, that number is likely to expand in the near future, notes the report. Cumulative global investment in renewables since 1995 has reached nearly US$180 billion.

Speakers at the Washington, D.C. launch event agreed that the report is timely. Rising oil prices, security risks associated with petroleum dependency, and the increasing environmental costs of conventional fuels provide growing incentive for the United States to expand its renewables use. A “‘perfect storm’ is brewing around the energy issue,” according to Chris Flavin, President of the Worldwatch Institute. And Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) noted that “the report comes at a very good time,” as the approaching midterm elections encourage candidates to take positions on renewable energy.

Rhone Resch, President of the Solar Energy Industries Association, likened the potential growth of renewables to that of the mobile phone industry boom. He also noted that promoting renewable energy is good environmental, energy, and economic policy, as other nations have demonstrated. For example, as Germany attempts to achieve energy independence, that nation’s photovoltaics industry has grown by over 67 percent in the last five years, and has contributed to the creation of 20,000 jobs in the last three.

According to the new report, since 2000 global wind energy generation has more than tripled, solar cell production has increased six-fold, and biodiesel production has expanded nearly four-fold. Additionally, says the report, the United States boasts some of the best renewable energy resources in the world. A quarter of the U.S. land area has winds strong enough to generate electricity at the same price as natural gas and coal, and seven states in the Southwest alone have the potential to provide 10 times the current electric generating capacity through solar power. California gets 31 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, and all but four states in the nation offer incentives to promote renewable energy efforts.

The diverse backgrounds of event attendees highlighted the increasingly widespread support for renewable energy in the United States. Other speakers included John Podesta, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress; Michael Eckhart, President of the American Council on Renewable Energy; Tom Buis, President of the National Farmers Union; Anna Aurilio, Director of the Washington, D.C. office of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group; and Randall Swisher, Executive Director of the American Wind Energy Association.

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.