In a March 23 event sponsored by the Pew Charitable trust in Washington DC, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that wind and solar power may compete with fossil fuels within the next decade, without additional assistance from government subsidies.
Although the Obama administration has been encouraging investments in green energy, the main interest in developing alternative energies has been led by other countries like China. Chu emphasized the need for the U.S. to stay competitive, saying, “… the country and the companies who develop those renewable energy and resources that become cost competitive without subsidy all of a sudden have a world market. And, boy, we can’t lost that world market.”
So far, many members of the Republican Party have argued that reducing dependence on fossil fuels is unneeded and would be too expensive. Moreover, there are both technological and political impediments to bringing too many renewable resources onto the U.S. electrical grid at once. Much of this has to do with the fact that wind and solar aren’t considered a base-load resource; they can’t provide energy at the flip of a switch. There are also issues surrounding state-by-state subsidies of renewable projects (for instance, a taxpayer- supported project in Missouri can’t allow the proceeds and energy to go to Kansas).
Both parties have defended the use of nuclear energy, which provides base-load power without carbon emissions, but after events following the March 11 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis in Japan, it is unclear how much nuclear power the population can stomach. The lack of nuclear development leaves a large gap in the U.S. energy infrastructure that, at first glance, can only be filled by either natural gas or coal.
Chu didn’t clarify how wind and solar can become more competitive other than to say, “This is a race.”