Energy Visions Forum at FDU a Success: A Student's Perspective


by Katey Sleight, Environmental Student at Ramapo College

February 22, 2015 -- Thursday night, February 19, was a bitter cold evening as students, faculty, and other environmentalists and the public filed into Fairleigh Dickinson’s Hackensack campus to attend Energy Visions, an event co-sponsored by the North Jersey Public Policy Network, (NJPPN) whose mission it is to provide educational programs on key public policy issues, such as climate change. The event was designed to provide three perspectives on energy conservation in the U.S and how switching to renewable sources can mitigate global warming and boost our energy independence. Among the speakers at the event were Professor Mark Z. Jacobson of Stanford University, Dan Sosland, President of the non-profit Acadia Center, and Captain Leo Goff, a retired member of the U.S Navy.

Professor Jacobson, who was Skyped in. Jacobson set a goal for the U.S: to transition the road maps for all 50 states 100% to wind, water, and solar. Because fossil fuels are finite, their prices inevitable rise over time. Jacobson continued by offering energy solutions for four sectors: electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, and industry. Electricity could potentially be powered by renewable sources such as wind energy, solar, geothermal, hydro, and tidal/wave power. The transportation sector could be powered by battery-electric, hydrogen fuel cells, or cryogenic hydrogen while the heating/cooling sector could be powered by electric heat pumps, electric resistance, and solar heating. Finally, the industrial sector could also be powered by electric resistance, electric arc or induction furnaces, dielectric heating, or hydrogen. It is apparent that there are indeed many options for each sector, and a combination of all the solutions could be met to fully power the U.S on all renewable energy sources.

The question then arose: where will we build the renewable power plants to supply our nation with renewable energy? Incredibly, Jacobson covered this concern, also. Only 0.44% of U.S land is needed for all of these energy plants, which he illustrated in a chart of the U.S. A grid reliability study was conducted that suggested that U.S energy demands could in fact be met, solely  by renewable sources. By 2050, Jacobson indicated that the U.S could transition 100% to renewable. With this shift would come a 37% drop in power demand, the elimination of 63,000 premature air pollution deaths every year, a reduction of global climate costs of $730 billion per year, and the creation of 5 million, 40-year construction jobs and 2.4 million 40-year operation jobs at the cost of only 3.2 million fossil fuel and nuclear jobs.

Dan Sosland spoke second, President of the non-profit policy-advocacy group Acadia Center. He started his presentation by showing a pie chart that attributed 2010 greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions to fuel switching (47%), efficiency (32%), and renewables (21%). Other factors, such as the economic downturn, were found to not have had a significant impact on emission rates. Sosland went on to say that a 50% GHG reduction could be reached simply if all gasoline vehicles and buildings shift to renewable electric power. By 2050, this reduction would climb to 80%. With an increase of investments in energy efficiency, the demand for energy will stabilize rather than increase such as in a non-energy efficient extrapolation. Clean power will also benefit the economy because it is extremely cost-competitive. Sosland argues that economic expansion is still possible as emissions fall.

Sosland spoke about the Keystone XL Pipeline, a hot topic right now in Congress and across the nation. In a colorful chart, Sosland showed the capacity of the pipeline in comparison with a combination of renewable energy sources. The capacity of the pipeline fell far below the combined capacity of renewables, which have a smaller environmental impact. Sosland says that we can start the energy transition in four areas: with energy efficiency, clean power supplies, electrifying buildings and transportation, and modernizing the power grid. If barriers are not put up and companies embrace new technologies and innovations, then the U.S will be well on its way to a renewable future.

Last to speak was Captain Leo Goff. Captain Goff brought a unique perspective to the table; that of the U.S. military, the largest single energy user in the U.S. Spending $15 billion on fuel annually, Captain Goff argues that the military can be a driver of innovation and marketing for alternative energy. Energy, he argued, is not a policy objective, but an operation imperative.

Energy matters so much to the military because it has strategic significance. Currently, China is the world’s biggest oil buyer and is growing at a rate of 7% each year. As the largest buyer, the exporting nations will be most concerned with China, their biggest client. Operating on a global market makes oil a global commodity. Captain Goff argued that, the more the military can cut back their reliance on this nonrenewable, global commodity, the more lives can be saved. In Afghanistan alone, 50% of U.S casualties were those protecting fuel convoys. In fact, 25% of all trucks within a convoy carry fuel, and are often targeted by enemy forces because of the resource’s importance to our troops. Captain Goff offered two solutions: increased efficiency, and a diversification of energy sources. The military has already decreased their fuel consumption and have certified all aircraft to work on a blend of 50% biofuels. Captain Goff concluded his presentation by mentioning that if energy use can change in the military, more lives will be saved and greater innovations and technologies will be produced as fuel security becomes a mounting concern.

Each speaker offered valuable insight and solutions on energy use in the U.S. Keeping each of their perspectives in mind will allow producers and consumers alike the opportunity to work in tandem to provide a more efficient future with clean, renewable energy for generations to come. If we treat energy as an operation imperative, as Goff says, then we will be well on our way to a greener, cleaner world.

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