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Renewable Energy

Date: 05-07-11
Host: Ian Punnett
Guests: Mark Z. Jacobson, Fred Burton

Stanford University professor Mark Z. Jacobson joined Ian Punnett to discuss the feasibility of powering the planet with renewable sources of energy generated from wind, water, sunlight, and even the Earth's own heat. Jacobson has laid out a plan that would provide 100 percent of the world's energy needs with renewables within the next few decades (related essay). The U.S. has made very little effort toward this goal, he said, noting that one of most progressive states, California, is pushing to have 33% of their electricity needs only met by renewable sources within 20 years. The European Union, on the other hand, has a plan to go 80% renewable for all sources -- electricity, transportation, and heating & cooling -- by 2050.

Jacobson acknowledged that not all renewable energy sources are price efficient, especially when compared to the cheap power generated by older coal fired plants. However, if one factors in health costs associated with the air pollution produced by these coal plants, the numbers even out somewhat, he suggested. Focusing on wind energy, Jacobson estimated that the U.S. transportation fleet, if it were made entirely of electric cars, could be powered by electricity from 70,000 to 143,000 5-megawatt wind turbines built on a total space about one third the size of South Dakota. In order to match supply with demand, intermittent wind power would likely need to be combined with other renewable sources, like solar, hydroelectric, and geothermal, he added.

According to Jacobson, the cost of converting the entire world's energy infrastructure to renewables would be about $100 trillion, with the U.S. representing approximately 18% of that figure. This money will ultimately be spent anyway on constructing new power plants and refurbishing old ones, he said. In addition, for every $1 spent on sources that reduce pollution there is a $4 health cost benefit, Jacobson noted. Moving to electric cars would also be a money saver as they cost about one quarter less to operate than a gas-powered vehicle, he explained. Jacobson also spoke about the resistance likely to be encountered from energy companies that stand to lose in a world powered by renewable energy, as well as the challenges of getting emissions down in developing economies, such as China.

Counter-Terrorism Issues

In the first hour, security expert Fred Burton commented on Osama bin Laden's take down, threats against the nation's mass transit system, and other counter-terrorism issues. The U.S. government has disclosed bin Laden's plan to target the nation's train infrastructure. "It's impossible, in reality, to protect the mass transportation system, therefore you have to go public," Burton said. This allows the government to leverage millions of other eyes, in addition to whatever undercover agents and electronic surveillance are dedicated to the task of finding pre-terrorist activity, he explained. Burton also commended Navy Seal Team 6 for their work bringing bin Laden to justice, an especially difficult job given the Pakistani Intelligence Service had been providing a safe haven and logistical cover for the former al-Qaeda leader, he suggested. Burton expects the next targets to include religious leader Anwar al-Awlaki (whom the U.S. has already attempted to assassinate) and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the highest ranking figure after bin Laden.

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Bumper music from Saturday May 07, 2011

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