Getting Smart About Energy

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By Paul McRandle

At the UN climate conference in Poland this week, concerns have been raised that the current economic woes may pose a roadblock to taking the carbon out of our energy sources and investing in greener energy production.  However, the real question may be how to avoid short-sighted investments in dirty power plants that have to be replaced as the effects of climate change worsen.  It’s a question Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. took up Monday evening, speaking at a Lexus Hybrid Living "eco-salon" and fund-raiser for Waterkeeper, where he argued that carbon is the principal drag on the U.S. economy, with $700 billion of US spending going to foreign oil annually, not to mention $1.3 trillion annually in subsidies to the oil industry. If we open up the field of energy production to other sources, he notes, we may spur the same sort of boom in innovative thinking that resulted in the England’s industrial revolution following the ban on slavery and the cheap energy it provided.

These innovations might well include the opportunity for homeowners to sell energy back to utilities at market rates, something currently not allowed in any state.  To do so, we’ll need a "smart" electricity grid, the unglamorous backbone that must be built if we’re to make wind and solar our major energy sources. A smart grid would not only make possible the expansion of wind and solar power throughout the states, but would also store that energy for later use.  As the Department of Energy points out, if the grid were just 5 percent more efficient, that would have the same impact on global warming as taking 53 million cars off the road. Now that would be good news this week in Poland.

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