The Geothermal Energy Association (newsletter, page 9) has made a nice pair of maps from recent EIA data – sorry about the resolution:
A little while ago I posted some NREL maps of the distribution of renewable energy resources. The new maps bear out I think some of my speculations on the political implications.
Two obvious inferences:
- State action or inaction makes a considerable difference; in this area at least, federalism is alive and well. Renewable resources vary widely across the entire USA, but not so much between neighbouring states. Nebraska gets as much wind as Iowa, Arizona more sun than California, and don’t use them. Utah and Ohio are also outliers on the down side. (Kentucky’s nil score is more understandable: apart from hydro, not in the map, it only has coal.) On the up outlier side, California and Maine have been overtaken by Iowa and South Dakota, and joined by a swathe of other Western states (Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, Minnesota).
- There is now a geographically broad national political base in the US for renewable energy. The map does not correlate well with Red and Blue state governance. The set of supporters is the union, not the intersection, of climate realists, energy-independence nationalists, objectors to local fossil fuel pollution, curmudgeons who don’t want to hand over money to deadbeats from out-of-state, and the rapidly growing body of people whose incomes depend on the industry – installers, maintenance workers, plant owners, and landlords. Of course, fossil fuels have a parallel base; but it’s in some ways thinner, as the ideological rationale is purely negative, as well as low on facts, and the businesses involved are often less local in character. The battle is more even than in Washington.
Clean energy supporters are thus a wider group than climate realists alone, and include many naturally conservative voters. And it’s a lobby with the sort of local roots that naturally bear state-level political fruit. The national GOP’s war on renewables, incited by national fossil fuels lobbyists, is not quite as suicidal as its war on women, but still strikes me as profoundly stupid. This may be why Obama, after a long period of passivity on green energy, and a depressing “all of the above” public stance, seems to have decided to make it an issue in the presidential campaign.
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Wonkish footnote: the map overstates the swing to renewables in the national energy mix because it’s not weighted by population, which is concentrated on the coasts. (Population-weighted cartogram here: Saul Steinberg would have loved it). However, the underpopulated centre is over-represented politically through the Senate and the Electoral College, so those big empty Western states regain significance courtesy of Madison’s war on democracy.
And of course, that’s where the energy is. Eventually they will catch up with Paraguay, with a renewable energy ratio of 160% or so: the Paraguayans can’t use their share of the output of the colossal 14 GW (!) Itaipu dam, and sell a third of it to Brazil.