In the last century, numerous scientific and engineering achievements have shaped our day to day lives. Among them, the use of electrical energy has had a profound and deep impact on our regular activities. However, our generation currently faces a looming global energy crisis. We as individuals can no longer remain isolated from social challenges like the depletion of nonrenewable resources, the increasing fuel price and consumer demand, and the environmental impact of greenhouse gas emissions. This crisis presents us with untapped potential for growth and wide-ranging opportunities in the areas of green technology, especially in the electric power and transportation industries.
“Green technology” or “clean technology” encompasses a wide variety of standards, principles, methods, and materials in major areas of life, such as energy, construction, transportation and consumer products. Green technology focuses on the application of scientific and engineering principles to develop eco-friendly energy sources and establish a solid foundation for ecological sustainability. The fundamental challenge is to create a synergistic environment, where ecological sustainability and economic growth can coexist.
A recent survey from Pew indicates that the global clean energy industry is experiencing and should continue to experience bullish growth. Clean technology investments are expected to increase by 25% from $162 billion in 2009 to $200 billion in 2010. Even though overall clean energy financing and investment in the United States more than doubled over the past five years, its growth rate lags behind Turkey, Brazil, China, the United Kingdom and Italy. An increasing number of local, state and national leaders in the United States and around the world are realizing that safe, reliable, clean energy can be harnessed to create jobs and businesses, reduce dependence on foreign energy sources, enhance national security and reduce global warming. Policy makers, public/private sector enterprises, law makers and aspiring entrepreneurs all believe that the 21st century can be aptly named the “century of the environment.”
The current climate legislation in Congress might not be enough to compete with countries like China, South Korea and Japan in clean technology market expansion and associated investments. The U.S. believes that placing any sort of tax on carbon emissions would stimulate the clean energy economy, but China, South Korea and Japan are able to attract public/private funding in clean technology without such taxing. The U.S. needs to step up its efforts in implementing clean technology, or else we might lose out on one of the significant economic opportunities of the current generation. A recent report by the Breakthrough Institute, Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program, and the Informational Technology and Innovation Foundation, titled “Strengthening Clean Energy Competitiveness: Opportunities for America COMPETES Reauthorization” identifies three strategic areas:
1. Increasing the scale of investment in clean energy education, research and innovation, as well as production and manufacturing.
2. Funding innovative programs that offer new institutional paradigms for accelerating
the pace of clean energy innovation.
3. Effectively leveraging federal investments by fostering coordination between existing
and new clean energy innovation programs to spur regional public-private
collaboration, strengthen clean energy industry clusters, and accelerate technology
innovation, manufacturing, and commercialization.
In February of 2009, President Barack Obama signed the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Some of the key points related to clean energy are summarized below:
1. A three-year extension to Production Tax Credits (PTC) for wind power, which would have expired at the end of this year, and an extension until the end of 2013 for geothermal and biomass renewable-energy projects.
2. $2.0 billion worth of energy related manufacturing investment credits.
3. $16.8 billion in direct spending for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs over a period of 10 years.
4. $11.0 billion to modernize the electricity grid. This includes $4.5 billion in direct spending to modernize the electricity grid with smart-grid technologies and $6.5 billion for federal power marketing administrations to assist with financing the construction, acquisition and replacement of their transmission systems.
5. $2.0 billion in loans to manufacture advanced batteries and components for applications like plug-in electric cars.
6. A tax credit of $2,500-$5,000 for the purchase of plug-in electric vehicles, available for the first 200,000 placed into service.
7. $6.0 billion to guarantee temporary loans for renewable energy power generation and transmission projects.
The City of Chicago is also undertaking projects to promote clean technology and sustainable infrastructure. Currently 250 buildings are under construction to qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, more than in any city in the US. Chicago Green Homes Program uses a point-based system to award builders and construction companies with star ratings for employing green materials and technologies. Chicago was highly instrumental in passing a statewide legislation to institute Renewable Portfolio Standard for Illinois utilities, which requires that 10% of power supplied to the state come from renewable sources by 2015. According to the Standard, a minimum of three-quarters of this renewable energy must come from wind power, and the remaining amount (25%) from other eligible renewable sources. As part of continuous efforts to improve air quality, the City of Chicago is working with the Chicago Area Clean Cities Coalition and the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus to promote the use of alternative fuel vehicles in municipal fleets. The City has already transitioned 1,200 of its municipal fleet to alternative fuels.
The Perfect Power project at IIT is about developing the nation’s first, one of a kind, high reliability distribution system. IIT has partnered with Galvin Electricity Initiative and the U.S. Department of Energy to develop the Perfect Power System. Self-sustaining infrastructure, sustainable energy systems and green buildings, consumer friendly interactive power delivery options, and utilization of distributed intelligence to develop a smart micro grid to improve the overall reliability of the system are some of the prime objectives of this project. IIT also received an $8 million grant from Department of Energy to perform focused research on critical wind energy challenges identified in the “20% Wind Energy by 2030” report, including wind technology, grid system integration, and workforce. ComEd is planning to launch a “Smart Grid Innovation Corridor” in Bellwood, Berwyn, Broadview, Forest Park, Hillside, Melrose Park, Oak Park, River Forest and Chicago’s Humboldt Park to test rooftop solar and electric vehicle charging stations. The city of Naperville expects to save residents about $22 million and reduce 180,000 tons of carbon emissions in about 15 years by investing in infrastructure and electric utility system upgrades as part of their smart grid initiatives.
As we move forward, green technology is expected to attract significant investments, federal policy initiatives and consumer awareness. The time is ripe to shift our focus on making wise energy choices to create a cleaner, sustainable, healthy and secure nation. Energy conservation would lay the foundation for energy independence, which would further ensure that we are in control of our future and our economic prosperity can be decoupled from foreign oil dependence. By turning a blind eye towards the energy crisis, we are trapping ourselves in ignorance and passing the buck to the future generations to pay for the wrong choices we make.
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