As renewable energy costs continue to plummet and buildings and machines become more and more efficient, the argument that we "need" to keep investing in fossil fuels seems weaker than ever. Countries that a couple decades ago ran on a fuel mix like America's are successfully weaning themselves off of oil and gas. According to the International Energy Agency, thirteen countries got more than 30 percent of their electricity from renewable energy in 2011, and many are aiming still higher. (The United States got 12.3 percent of its electricity from renewables in 2011.)
An Elizabeth Rosenthal piece in the New York Times' Sunday Review asks the question on everyone's mind: To what extent will we really “need” fossil fuel in the years to come?
Rosenthal cites a National Research Council report released last week that concluded that the United States could halve by 2030 the oil used in cars and trucks compared with 2005 levels. She also notes another study from a team of Stanford engineers published a proposal showing how New York State could easily produce all of the power it needs from wind, solar and water power by 2030.
“It’s absolutely not true that we need natural gas, coal or oil — we think it’s a myth,” said Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and the main author of the study, published in the journal Energy Policy. “You could power America with renewables from a technical and economic standpoint. The biggest obstacles are social and political — what you need is the will to do it.”
But many experts say that aggressively pursuing renewable energy to reduce our carbon footprint may well be impractical for now:
“There is plenty of room for wind and solar to grow and they are becoming more competitive, but these are still variable resources — the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow,” said Alex Klein, the research director of IHS Emerging Energy Research, a consulting firm on renewable energy. “An industrial economy needs a reliable power source, so we think fossil fuel will be an important foundation of our energy mix for the next few decades.”
What do you think? Do we "need" to approve Keystone XL to keep Canadian oil flowing south? Do we "need" to keep fracking for natural gas?
Read the article and let us know your thoughts in the comments.