See Inside March 2009

How Renewable Energy and Storage Solutions Stack Up

The need to tackle global climate change and energy security makes developing alternatives to fossil fuels crucial

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Renewable energy, such as from photovoltaic electricity and ethanol, today supplies less than 7 percent of U.S. consumption. If we leave aside hydroelectric power, it is under 4.5 percent. Globally, renewables provide only about 3.5 percent of electricity and even less of transportation fuels.

But increasing that fraction for the U.S.—as seems necessary for managing greenhouse gases, trade deficits and dependence on foreign suppliers—has at least three tricky components. The obvious one is how to capture the energy of wind, sun and crops economically. After that, the energy has to be moved from where it is easily gathered, such as the sunny American Southwest or the windy High Plains, to the places it can be used. And the third is to convert it into convenient forms. Most prominently in the last category, electricity for transportation has to be loaded into cars and trucks, either through batteries or perhaps as hydrogen.

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