Al Gore: Super grid is critical to combating the climate crisis

Al Gore: Super grid is critical to combating the climate crisis

Apr 9, 2010 - Lisa Sibley - Cleantech Group

An effective smart grid could help keep the United States competitive in the international marketplace, the former U.S. vice president says.

The used-to-be next president of the United States, as he calls himself, is all for putting a price on carbon, a cap and trade system, and overcoming political obstacles to combat climate change.

But what the American environmentalist and venture capitalist Al Gore—who has won everything from the Nobel Peace Prize to an Academy Award and Grammy for his documentary and book "The Inconvenient Truth"—came to San Mateo, Calif., yesterday to talk about was the super grid.

He said the smart grid is "at the heart" of developing renewable energy and empowering people to get to higher levels of efficiency.

Gore was the final keynote speaker at VentureBeat’s GreenBeat 2009 conference, focused on the smart grid. He also managed to plug the release of his new book, “Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis,” which outlines what he thinks needs to happen to achieve a super grid—a revamped electrical grid aimed at saving energy, diversifying energy sources, and decarbonizing power use to slow global warming.

“This roller coaster is about to crash, and we are in the front car,” he said, of America's dependence on foreign oil and dwindling new discoveries of it.

The book offers Gore’s plan to addressing the climate crisis. While technologies such as nuclear and carbon capture sequestration are expected to play a limited role, he said the single largest solution is efficiency, and smart grid plays a critical part in that.

“The smart grid will also empower an entire new collection of devices and instruments and things that haven’t even been invented yet,” he said, likening it to the way the Internet has allowed an explosion of Internet-ready new technologies.

There are many players, large and small, looking to take advantage of the business potential associated with the smart grid.

Cisco’s Smart Grid Senior Vice President Laura Ipsen spoke during the conference on how her company is playing a role in developing a cleaner, more efficient grid (see Cisco chases billion-dollar smart grid dreams).

She said the company is planning to launch some smart grid-related products in early 2010, without disclosing specifics. She added that Cisco’s venture arm is “almost unlimited,” in terms of funds.

“We are going to put in what it takes,” she said.

As the United States moves toward a widely distributed energy generation model, Gore said the smart grid will help to create jobs and offer cost savings.

“We have such large amounts of waste throughout our energy system,” he said.

With the current system, it costs the United States more than $200 billion per year in unplanned outages and failures, Gore said, citing Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (see Can the U.S. catch up? Getting smarter about the smart grid and Smart grid could be early winner in U.S. stimulus package).

Gore said it’s also abundantly clear that in the international marketplace having an effective smart grid will give the United States what he characterized as a competitive advantage.

Other nations such as China are moving forward very quickly, with its super grid expected to be completed by 2020. Australia is also embarking on an ambitious smart grid proposal, he said. The country has six publicly traded companies developing enhanced geothermal resources.

However, he emphasized that a super grid transition won’t be easy, citing an old African proverb: If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

“We have to go far quickly, which means we have to get our act together quickly,” he said.

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November 20, 2009 - by Lisa Sibley, Cleantech Group