397811 The Federal Role in Fostering an Innovative U.S. Energy Ecosystem

Monday, November 17, 2014: 10:50 AM
M109 (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
Erin Alderink, University of Michigan, Muskegon, MI

Although renewable sources of energy – solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal – have been around for over one hundred years, they only generate 12.5 percent of electricity in the United States today. Renewable technology has advanced in cost, reliability, performance, and efficiency, but not enough to allow renewables to be a large contributor to electricity generation and widely used in the U.S. Renewables need continued innovation and progression to become more efficient, more reliable, and more cost competitive with fossil fuels, as well as expanding the possibilities of their use. Increased R&D funding for renewable sources is the key to advancing the technology and giving renewables the tools it needs to provide a larger portion of electricity in the U.S.

With renewables generating a larger portion of electricity, the U.S. can reach environmental sustainability, energy security, and a new economic opportunity. In reference to reaching environmental sustainability, renewables do not emit carbon and greenhouse gases, which is important for a cleaner future and mitigating climate change. Because the “fuel” for renewables includes the sun and wind, electricity generation from these sources does not depend on obtaining fossil fuels inside or outside of our country. They also extend the lifetime of these resources to be used for base load power, providing energy security to the U.S. Finally, if the U.S. is able to quickly and effectively develop competitive renewable technologies and deploy them into the electricity sector, it can provide competitive renewable technologies to the global community, boosting the economy and maintaining world leadership.

Although renewables have the capability to provide many benefits for the U.S., they face obstacles in receiving the funding they need to be widely used. These obstacles include climate change skeptics, the fossil fuel industry, the polarized political environment, and having to cut funding for other areas such as education and defense in order to allocate more money to R&D. The demand for renewables has also been relatively weak because electricity generated by renewables is no different than electricity generated by fossil fuels when the consumer uses it. The main way for renewables to be competitive with fossil fuels is through the cost and since wind is the only renewable that is cost competitive with fossil fuels, a strong customer demand has not been present to spur large private sector investment in renewable technologies.

In order for renewables to accomplish necessary advancements and contribute a larger portion of electricity to the U.S., financing to R&D for the technologies needs to be increased through government funding, capital generated through a carbon tax, public-private partnerships, and incentives for investment in the technology and its R&D. A commitment to innovating renewables in order to reach environmental sustainability, energy security, and a new economic opportunity is necessary from governmental officials to make the tough decisions advocating for widespread use of renewables in the U.S.

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See more of this Session: Undergraduate Research Forum I: Energy and Environment
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