Since publishing my post on electrifying the Interstate Highway System I’ve been asked where the power to pull off such a sweeping change would come from. One friend suggested that if the needed power came from coal fired power, there would be little point to such a move. But I was convinced renewable sources can deliver the energy needed to electrify the interstate highways, and looked for evidence to support that view. What I found was an environmental blog published by the New York Times in July 2009. The piece, written by John Lorinc, was provocatively named Study Suggests Wind Power Potential Is Much Higher Than Current Estimates.
Lorinc’s blog refers to a remarkable study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This study, Global Potential For Wind-Generated Electricity, was produced by Xi Lu, Michael B. McElroy, and Juha Kiviluoma at the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Harvard University. These researchers suggested that the potential wind energy in the lower 48 states is equivalent to 16 times the total electrical demand of the United States!! By itself such a staggering amount of power would clearly be more than enough to realize the dream of electrifying the interstate highways.
But our sources of renewable energy don’t stop there. Most of the wind energy in the lower 48 states comes from a huge area in the middle of the country stretching from North Dakota to Texas. But there is an enormous expanse of land further west in states like California, Arizona, and New Mexico where the sun beats down with merciless regularity. This area could contribute a huge amount of renewable energy in the form of large solar thermal installations designed to produce electricity by concentrating the sun’s rays.
In Canada, the province of Quebec also has enormous wind energy potential, one that may be even greater than the winds of the American Midwest. Much of the electricity used in New England and New York already comes from hydroelectric sources in Quebec. It would be perfectly logical to supply much of the electricity needed to power electric roads on our eastern seaboard from wind power sources based in Quebec. Canada doesn’t need to disturb its toxic tar sands to become an energy superpower!
In recent years the United States has been called The Saudi Arabia of Wind Power. When we add the huge solar potential of the American Southwest, and the vast untapped wind energy of Quebec we find three Saudi Arabia’s worth of renewable energy in our corner of the world. Don’t let the naysayers tell you otherwise — there is more than enough renewable energy available to power the electric road of the future. Much more!