Google’s Proposal for reducing U.S. dependence on fossil fuels

We can build whole new industries and create millions of new jobs. We can cut energy costs, both at the gas pump and at home. We can improve our national security. And we can put a big dent in climate change. With strong leadership we could be moving forward on an aggressive but realistic time-line and an approach that offsets costs with real economic gains.

The energy team at Google has been analyzing how we could greatly reduce fossil fuel use by 2030. Our proposal – "Clean Energy 2030" – provides a potential path to weaning the U.S. off of coal and oil for electricity generation by 2030 (with some remaining use of natural gas as well as nuclear), and cutting oil use for cars by 44%.

President-elect Obama announced his New Energy for America plan this past summer that is similar to ours in several ways, including a strong emphasis on efficiency, renewable electricity and plug-in vehicles. Similarly, the Natural Resources Defense Council, McKinsey and Company, and the Electric Power Research Institute have issued proposals that share all of these same elements. Al Gore has issued a challenge that is even more ambitious – getting us to carbon-free electricity by 2020 – and we hope the American public pushes our leaders to embrace it. T. Boone Pickens has weighed in with an interesting plan of his own to massively deploy wind energy, among other things. Other plans have also been developed in recent years that merit attention.

Google’s proposal will benefit the US by increasing energy security, protecting the environment, creating new jobs, and helping to create the conditions for long-term prosperity. Some of the necessary funds will be public, but much of it will come from the private sector — a typical approach for infrastructure and high technology investments.

Our goal in presenting this first iteration of the Clean Energy 2030 proposal is to stimulate debate and we invite you to take a look and comment – or offer an alternative approach if you disagree. With a new Administration and Congress – and multiple energy-related imperatives – this is an opportune, perhaps unprecedented, moment to move from plan to action.

This revised proposal was released on November 20, 2008. Check out Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s energy speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on October 1, and his energy speech at the Natural Resources Defense Council headquarters in New York on November 20.

Summary: What’s New in Version 2.0

Since Clean Energy 2030 was first published on October 1, 2008, we have made several changes based on comments from readers and internal feedback, most notably:

* an analysis of job creation in the electricity sector
* an improved vehicle model which results in higher average fleet fuel efficiency (and significantly increased savings)
* a decrease in the price of gasoline from $4 to $3 per gallon (doubling by 2030), in light of recent economic changes

Also included:

* a comment on why nuclear power was not expanded beyond the level in the baseline, and why coal with carbon capture and sequestration technology was not included
* an analysis of the precedent for rapid capacity build-outs in the natural gas and nuclear industries
* estimates of the required land area for wind and concentrating solar installations, and roof area for solar photovoltaics
* an analysis of the age of US coal and natural gas plants when retired under our proposal
* a more thorough analysis of the impact of accelerating the retirement of older vehicles
* a summary of the major activities Google is pursuing in the clean energy arena

Overall, we find a slight increase in vehicle fuel and economy-wide CO2 savings, and despite the decrease in fuel prices, a net economic savings almost as large as previously calculated, $820 billion over 22 years.

Summary: Reductions in Energy Use and Emissions

Our proposal will allow us to reduce from the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) current baseline for energy use:

* Fossil fuel-based electricity generation by 88%
* Vehicle oil consumption by 44%
* Dependence on imported oil (currently 10 million barrels per day) by 37%
* Electricity-sector CO2 emissions by 95%
* Personal vehicle sector CO2 emissions by 44%
* US CO2 emissions overall by 49% (41% from today’s CO2 emission level)

We can achieve these results in 2030 by:

* Deploying aggressive end-use electrical energy efficiency measures to reduce demand 33%.
o Baseline EIA demand is projected to increase 25% by 2030. In addition, the increase in plug-in vehicles (see below) increases electricity demand another 8%. Thus, our efficiency reductions keep demand flat at the 2008 level.
* Replacing all coal and oil electricity generation, and about half of that from natural gas, with renewable electricity:
o 380 gigawatts (GW) wind: 300 GW onshore + 80 GW offshore
o 250 GW solar: 170 GW photovoltaic (PV) + 80 GW concentrating solar power (CSP)
o 80 GW geothermal: 15 GW conventional + 65 GW enhanced geothermal systems (EGS)
* Increasing plug-in vehicles (hybrids & pure electrics) to 90% of new car sales in 2030, reaching 41% of the total US fleet that year
* Increasing new conventional vehicle fuel efficiency from 31 to 45 mpg in 2030


* Accelerating the turnover of the vehicle fleet, resulting in maximum new vehicle sales of 21.5 million per year in 2020, a 30% increase over the baseline, and boosting fleet average fuel efficiency by 7.5 mpg.

Summary: Financial Bottom Line

The financial bottom line: Although the cost of the Clean Energy 2030 proposal is significant (about $3.86 trillion in undiscounted 2008 dollars), savings are even greater ($4.68 trillion), returning a net savings of $820 billion over the 22-year life of the plan.

Summary: Actions Required

A number of actions will be required to realize the Clean Energy 2030 proposal.

* Renewable electricity
o A long-term national commitment to renewable electricity (e.g. national renewable portfolio standard, carbon price, long-term tax credits and incentives, etc.)
o Adequate transmission capacity (to support about 450 GW targeting mostly Great Plains and coasts for wind, and desert southwest for concentrating solar power)
o Adequate grid resources to manage large-scale intermittent generation
o Public and private renewable energy R&D and investment to achieve cost parity with fossil generation in next several years
* Energy efficiency
o Long-term commitment to energy efficiency by the federal government and states (e.g, national efficiency standard, aggressive appliance standards and building codes, "decoupling" of utility profits from sales, incentives for energy efficiency investments)
o Deployment of a "smart" electricity grid that empowers consumers and businesses to manage their electricity use more effectively
* Personal vehicles
o Public policies supporting the deployment of fuel-efficient vehicles, e.g. higher fuel efficiency standards for conventional vehicles, financial incentives to encourage efficient (especially plug-in) vehicle purchases, special electricity rates for "smart charging", and greater R&D
o Investment in infrastructure necessary to support massive deployment of plug-ins including charging stations and development of new power management hardware and software

All of the above will require a sufficient and well-trained work force and manufacturing capacity to meet projected growth.

Electricity Sector

Currently the US produces half of its electricity from coal, 20% each from natural gas and nuclear energy, with the remainder provided by hydro and other renewables. Very little oil is used to make electricity—only about 1.5%. Electricity generation produces about 2,400 million metric tons of CO2 per year (MMtCO2/yr), about 40% of total US emissions.

In Clean Energy 2030 we transform this sector by: 1) Keeping electricity demand FLAT at the 2008 level, rather than allowing it to grow 25% by 2030, and 2) Eliminating all coal and oil in electricity generation (and about half of natural gas) by 2030 and replacing that generation with renewable energy–primarily wind, solar and geothermal.

For energy efficiency, there is ample proof in several states and from research studies that growth in electricity demand can be kept flat or even made to decline (nationally demand is otherwise projected to grow by about 1% per year). This can be done using a combination of strategies, including energy efficiency targets, appliance standards, building codes, R&D investment, financial incentives, "decoupling" of utility profits from sales, and voluntary programs (a list of simple things individuals can do was recently highlighted on Google’s home page). Providing detailed information about one’s energy use can also help consumers lower energy consumption, and Google PowerMeter is one proposed tool that aims to do just that.

Keeping demand flat would reduce fossil fuel-based generation by 30% in 2030, assuming no reduction in other generation. The question is how we would meet remaining electricity needs without fossil fuels. The “business-as-usual” scenario developed by the EIA has very modest growth projections for renewables: about the same hydropower capacity as today (7%), and an expansion from 2% to 7% for other renewables (mostly biomass). Under the EIA view most of our remaining electricity requirements would still be met by fossil fuels.

We propose something radically different. Onshore and offshore wind could grow from about 20 GW today to 380 GW, generating 29% of 2030 demand. Solar, both photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP), could grow from about 1 GW today to 250 GW, generating 12% of demand. Geothermal, both conventional and enhanced geothermal systems (EGS; see below), could grow from 2.4 GW today to 80 GW, generating 15% of demand. Together with modest projected expansion of other non-fossil energy sources, including nuclear (115 GW), hydro (78 GW), and biomass and municipal waste (23 GW), about 90% of demand could be met.

Such rapid build-ups of electric generating capacity are not without precedent in the US. Between 1998 and 2006, over 200 GW of natural gas capacity were added to the US grid, representing a 115% increase. At its peak in 2002, 60 GW of natural gas generating capacity was brought online in one year, a 24% annual increase. A similar story exists for nuclear energy, where 100 GW were built in the 1970s and 1980s from essentially zero capacity, with peak growth of almost 10 GW/yr and year-on-year growth after 1969 in excess of 60%.

The remaining demand would be supplied by natural gas (290 GW), which is likely necessary for shoring up imbalances between generation and demand, particularly with large amounts of intermittent renewables on the grid. Some capacity would also be provided by hydro resources, while distributed demand management (scheduling of large devices such as washing machines, dryers and plug-in vehicles, and making loads such as air conditioning interruptible) and energy storage (both distributed and centralized) would help make optimal economic use of intermittent generation.

The projected increase in nuclear generation (about a 15% increase over today’s capacity) is unchanged from the EIA’s projection, which assumes about 20 GW of new capacity offset by 5 GW of retirements in 2030. We did not pursue a more aggressive expansion of nuclear because of our concerns over cost, waste disposal and proliferation risk. Going forward, however, we are keen to explore all types of cutting-edge renewable sources of electricity including, perhaps, clean nuclear technology.

Another technology that is conspicuously absent from our proposal is coal with CO2 capture and sequestration (CCS). This technology has the potential to allow coal to be burned with minimal greenhouse gas emissions (about 10% of conventional coal plants), but the technical and legal challenges of storing billions of tons of CO2 underground have yet to be solved. If these issues can be overcome at reasonable cost, CCS would be a welcomed additional low-carbon energy solution.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) just completed a study looking at deploying 300 GW of wind by 2030, and concluded that the wind resource was ample for the task, and the impact on manufacturing was measurable but not overwhelming. An earlier study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory explored more rapid scale-ups of wind capacity, and found that up to about 600 GW by 2030 was feasible. Our target, 380 GW in 2030, is therefore not at all unrealistic. This level of wind energy deployment would occupy about 170 x 170 square miles, or 10% of the land area of Texas, but less than 2% of that area (24 x 24 square miles, less than a quarter of the land area of Delaware) would be occupied by towers, roads and other equipment; the rest of the land would still be available for farming, ranching, etc.

Solar photovoltaics (PV) have been growing very strongly in recent years, topping 50% per year, but this technology still has a very small market share because of its cost. Concentrating solar power (CSP) may break through this cost barrier faster, and could deliver massive amounts of power. Studies by Navigant Consulting and Clean Edge indicate that capacities at least as high as envisioned in our proposal are possible. Our proposal would require a 20 x 20 square mile area to be installed with CSP technology, 34 million home roofs (25% of total) to be installed with solar PV, and a similar PV capacity installed on commercial building rooftops.

Geothermal energy is perhaps the sleeping giant. Conventional hydrothermal resources have been quietly growing in recent years, with 4 GW in the pipeline and likely 15 GW developed by 2030. Last month we announced a significant initiative in enhanced geothermal energy systems (EGS). This technology, which has the potential to provide significant baseload power on a broad-scale basis, promises extremely rapid growth if key technologies can be proven in the next few years.

For wind and solar, where the lion’s share of resources are located in the Great Plains and desert southwest – far from population centers – the biggest challenge is providing adequate transmission capacity to get the power to market. Extrapolating from the DOE study, about 20,000 miles of new transmission capacity would be required to support 300 GW of onshore wind and 80 GW of concentrating solar power generation in the Clean Energy 2030 proposal. About 200,000 miles of high-voltage transmission now exist in the US. By contrast, offshore wind is located close to cities on both coasts, solar PV is typically highly distributed near where electricity is consumed, and there are significant potential EGS resources from border to border and coast to coast.

In summary, if we achieve the above electricity targets in the Clean Energy 2030 proposal, it would eliminate 88% of fossil fuel use and reduce CO2 emissions by 95% relative to the 2030 baseline, or about 2,800 MMtCO2/yr.