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Eliminating Fossil Fuel Use by 2030 | Alex Lightman | TEDxHighPoint

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I'm thrilled to be here in High Point, I grew up in Virginia, and I took a lot of my favorite vacations here, my mother worked in Hendersonville for Mother Earth News, so Ecology runs in my family. The talk today is about how to get rid of the use of fossil fuels in the US by 2030. This is not a fantasy this is an inevitability and it's something all of us can participate in as a fun project together. My goal is by July 4th, 2030 to look back at the battle days of coal, and oil and natural gas, like we would look back at horses and buggies. They're still in use: our 8 track tapes, vacuum tubes. They may be around, some people may be using them, but it won't be part of the mainstream of the United States. That's what authentic independence would be. So let's look at High Point. High Point is a community of about 100,000 people, you have manufacturing here so it probably take two 280 MW plants to make this city, and all of its businesses work. A natural gas plant, two of them, each one of them would produce, 400 thousand tons a year of carbon dioxide. If it's a coal plant however, it's going to produce two million tons of carbon dioxide, it's gonna produce 70 tons of ash, 108 thousand tons of sludge, and imagine this room completely filled and dripping over with sludge, and this is every year, and imagine two of those every year. 95 pounds of mercury, which is very toxic, even in tiny quantities, goes into fish, women that are pregnant eat fish, and then they have a toxic womb filled with mercury, and 120 pound of arsenic which is a deadly poison. We can replace that with systems that have zero toxins. What's the impact of this? Per capita health costs in the United States are a whopping $9000 a year. Why are they so high? We keep talking about it as if it's because of the insurance companies... No it's because we're living in poison, we create all this poison, and about a third of our healthcare costs according to an article by EPA scholars, $886.5 billion. So imagine, about $3,000 a year is spent just detoxifying from all of that coal, natural gas and oil. About a 30% to 40% of all deaths worldwide are from pollution. Why do we want to keep making more of it? We think a safe level of carbon dioxide is about 350 parts per million. Now it's over 400 parts per million! I have friends who are in Facebook, who are posting that because you can measure it, just like you can measure with a thermometer, inside your house. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hasn't been seen for over 3 million years, since the Pliocene when the Eohippus was going around barking, and roaring, or whatever Eohippuses or Eohippi did. And if all these public companies which have shareholders, Exxon Mobile and others burn all the carbon on their spreadsheets we'll have over 600 parts per million, and temperatures will be up 6° C, more than 10° F. Does that matter? 10° F does it matter? Well you have highs and lows, some places will be colder and some places are hotter. Every day that you have crops exposed to 90° F increases the possibility of crop failure by 10%. Do you want to have an extra 10 days a year of 90° weather? No. Also there's climate impacts. Imagine if a tornado was here in this room right now, for 30 seconds. Do you think we'd survive? Now imagine Haiyan over a city, Leyte, wich is unfortunately the capital of geothermal energy for the Philippines. They get about 27% of their energy from geothermal. Imagine a tornado, which is a hurricane but at 300 mph winds for 4 1/2 hours just rotating over ripping everything up. It killed 10 thousand people, it made over 600 thousand people homeless. If current trends continue we could end up with weather damage that exceeds the entire GDP of the world, by 2060. And it just keeps getting worse... And what happens if rising sea levels happen? So you have a little bit of warmth in the water, the water expands. Water expands when you cook it in a pot, and, you could have the pot polar caps melt. We have of all that water imagine it going there. We could flood the coast where 75% of the people live. And as I've shown this, talked to people, I took for granted people knew the term I was using: climate migrants. These are people who had to move because they cannot live where they lived any longer, because the climate made it impossible. You can have an island where you're growing food and all it takes, is just one wave of salt water, and you can never grow crops there again. So, we're in High Point North Carolina, this is what will happen, we're right about here, this is what'll happen, we'll become Low Point, we'll be submerged under the water if this happens, and we won't be the only place. Now you may think from this that there's a lot of water. Actually there's not very much water at all, if you dumped a beach ball in the water you'd get a few drips left over, that's how much you'd be left. I've gone to audiences hundreds of times and said "How much water, how much of the world is water?" Anyone wants to guess what the percentage is? 70%, people say 70%, no it's 0.06% water. And that little tiny dot there, that's all the water, but 97%of that is salt. Do you know how we desalinate salt water? We do it with diesel fuel! And 2% of that is ice, and 1% of that is fresh water. The rest of it is in the atmosphere. So how are we treating the water with fossil fuels? Well natural gas stations in the U.S. alone use 4.5 trillion gallons of water, China uses 36.5 trillion to burn their 4 billion tons of coal a year out of 8 billion a year of coal we do. It takes 51 thousand gallons of water to make one tank of biofuel. Solar uses 1.7 million times less then biofuel to make the same amount of energy. Why do we want to destroy our water? That's a map of Fraccidents, accidents from fracking. I worked my way through MIT as a drilling engineer for Mitchell Energy And Development which is the pioneer of fracking in America. North Carolina has set a new low for the entire world by banning disclosure of the 600 different chemicals that are in fracking fluid. The EPA only tracks 13 of them! You may be drinking poisoned water without even knowing it. How would you know? If you don't know the chemicals you can't monitor them. This is a diagram that shows the various amounts of water use. You use 1,100 gallons per MWH for coal, 800 for nuclear, 300 for natural gas, and 0 for solar. We talk about how great America is, now that we're the number one producer of oil in the world, but the first quarter of this year GDP shrank by 2.9%! How does that go together? We're the number 3 importer of fossil fuels: not very independent... And the number 2 importer of oil. China just passed us in that category, which means it competes with us. Now, there's something called "The Oil Curse", there's a whole book about this. The 40 or so nations that have a lot of oil can be compared to the ones that don't. Do they have better economic prosperity? No, they have greater inequality, they have slower growth on average, more government corruption. And why? Well part of it is because it takes $3.5 million to create an oil field job. There's so many more ways to create jobs that aren't like that. Where basically $50,000 can create a job. So this is America now, this is the US government's big picture of where energy comes from. We get 80% of our energy from fossil fuels, 18% from coal. That's awesome, that's great, this is down quite a lot. For electricity is 28% of electricity down from 50% just 3 years ago. So this is amazing! We're going in the right direction. 29% from Natural gas 35% from oil, and it's about 9% from nuclear, about 9% to 10% for renewables. But here's the great news: when we started making solar panels for photovoltaic it was about $100/W, and right now the average cost in California for pre installed system is about $5/W, and it's heading down to 25 cents/W. Compared to oil, solar photovoltaics have improved 5300 times since 1973, and are heading by 2020, 2022 to 12000 times better. The result of that is that solar installations are booming! This is where we are in North Carolina, awesome! North Carolina not so great with fracking fluids, awesome with solar. Well done, good job! What does this mean? North Carolina if it wanted to make, I don't know a trillion dollars a year, could provide all the electricity for the entire United States. You have the land area, and you have the solar profile, the State to do that. You just have to get out there and start building. Every panel you build makes all future costs, less expensive. I want to show you something that a city can do. What you can do, to actually make solar happen. This is what Las Vegas has done. The CEO of a company that I'm the Chairman at in the Everglades, installed these panels. They provide 6% of the energy used, but what's interesting is that they're bifacial. The sun comes not only in the top, 30% of it reflects off the bottom. These exist now, if you go to Las Vegas you can see these operating right now. These are building right now, and I'd want these to go in every municipal parking lot. We call these Everblaze Solar Trees. I brought a 3D printed model of what they'll look like. The idea is that you'll put them in parking lots, they'll get sun from the top, they get sun from the reflection, and they provide shade for the cars while they are doing that. Now why do you want to have that? Well, within 100 feet from where I live, in Santa Monica, California, the city has put 32 parking slots, because of all the people with Teslas and other electric cars, so that people can charge for free, the city wants to encourage people to come and drive electric cars. This is how you do it! It's just like if you want people to come and have a drink, make a water fountain. Make solar panels and you'll have more people driving cars. How much sun do we have, do we have enough sun? According to the former president of MIT, we get more sun an hour than we basically need for all the energy needs of the Earth in a year. Now, here's the slide where I pay off the title of this talk. This is something that's never been shown before, and it's real. This is where the introduction says "is this for real?" This is for real! Solar grew 41% last year! If you want to figure out how long it takes for something to double, you take 72 and divide it by that number. So 72 divided by 36 gives you a doubling time of every 2 years. So solar's growing faster then this and there's reasons to think it will grow even faster then 41%. In places like China and India it's growing 300%, that's what happened last year. So 2016: 2% of all of our electricity comes from solar. 2018 4%, 2020 8%, 2022 16% ... This is where it starts to get great, 2024 32% of our electricity is from solar, and BOOM we stop using coal. It's over! 2026 BOOM 64% of our electricity is from solar, and there's no more reason to use natural gas, for a very simple reason. Because even if they offer it for free, you have generation, transmission and distribution. There's no reason to pay for the transmission and distribution, because it's already cheaper to use solar that's right there. Then 4 more years and BOOM we're now producing 2 1/2 times as much energy as we're using, and it's all electricity that's going into electric cars. And we've ended the use of oil by July 4th, 2030! Just like my goal was in the beginning. And what about all these cars that exist on the road? There is a billion vehicles on the road, we just sold 2 million more. What happens to those? And the answer is very simple, we convert them to run on ammonia, NH3, one nitrogen, three hydrogen. The air right now that we're breathing is 78% nitrogen, ammonia is 83% nitrogen. You produce it in your body, you produce about 50 grams a day. If you're working out and sweating you produce more then that, it's part of us. So, what we're going to do is basically change cars over to run on ammonia. Then we also use it for fertilizer. Ammonia is the second most traded commodity, after petroleum. 200 million tons a year, 80% of which is used for fertilizer. We can reduce the cost of food, if instead of $1000 a ton for ammonia at current prices, what if we could make ammonia for $20, or $30, or $40? We would have a radical redistribution of wealth to the poorest half of the world! This is basically how we do it... All we have to do to make the transition is learn about the real cost of carbon, realize how much we're already spending on renewables, and compete in renewables. The sputnik effect: we created DARPA, we created NASA, we did GPS, all because of a beeping tin can in space! We can compete for renewables, There are places in Germany where they're 400% self sufficient in electricity from renewables. And then we make self driving cars and green ammonia. Why electric vehicles? They are five times more efficient. If you are spending $400 a month for gasoline, and you have an electric car, even at rates of 13 cents/KWH, you're going to spend 40$ recharging your car, but if solar goes down the way that it's going, then those costs are going to be more like $4. But if you up these solar trees in municipalities, and it's just like you expect clean air, you expect clean water, and you expect clean energy to be provided, then your costs are 0. The maintenance costs are also 90% less. You can charge the batteries with solar in the day, and then at night run the lights off your car. That's your storage, so you don't need to be on the grid at all. The end of oil comes from are self driving cars. For a simple reason: each auto drive car will replace 15 internal combustion engine cars. This is one of the greatest innovations, Google's all over it. Here's the 8-fold path, the final thing. First, stop subsidizing and protecting fossil fuels. It's subsidized to the tune of $2 trillion a year. Let's put this in perspective. All renewable spending for the entire world, was $224 billion. So we're spending ten times as much subsidizing oil, gas and coal, as we are spending for all of our solar. Remember every well that you drill depletes the oil and the natural gas from adjacency, so it's a diminishing return, it's a negative learning curve. When i drilled wells at MIT back in the early '80s the average cost of a well was less then a $1 million. Now it costs more than $15 million. It's getting more and more expensive. Imagine every panel you buy for solar actually reduces all the future panels that a trillion human beings will buy in the future. That's a legacy, that is just as good as donating to any charity. The second thing is, set a specific date for your comunity, for High Point, for North Carolina, for the United States. There are a number of very brave and admirable cities, counties and countries, that have said "We are going to be 100% renewable by this date". There are, you know, walls of honor. This to me is the place that you want to be. San Francisco is here, 100% renewable is its goal. The city of San Jose is here, Google is here. It's a list of heroes, and I love them. Thank you! The third thing is break up utility monopolies. The Hollywood studios used to control what people watched. So if your local theater was owned by Paramount, you had to only see Paramount movies. It took 27 years of court battles, before on basically in 1947, starting in 1921, that finally we broke up the studio production, from watching the movies in the theaters. We need to do that with generation, so you can be a generator or you can be involved in transmission and distribution, but not both. So then you can't force people to buy your electricity, just because you happen to be in the local area, like the company town that makes you buy all their things. And then this is a simple one... The deck is stacked against solar. If you're in a real estate investment trust, or a master limited partnership you can invest in fracking, you can invest in pipelines, you can invest in the asphalt up on the roofs of buildings, but you can not invest in solar, or wind. This would free up a trillion dollars for renewables, just by itself. And we only spent $13 billion on solar last year so it would be an enormous difference. Right now about 70% of the costs of solar is for the financing. End taxpayer, rate payer subsidies! If you declare, right now "I'm going to build a nuclear plant", you can start charging people more money. Five years go by, you say "Oh well, we're not going to do it", you just keep all that money. But all the customers are forced to pay those rates. If you break ground on a gas or coal plant you can raise the rates, and never give the money back. But with solar or wind you have to wait until it's finished to do it. End that! Also reverse regulatory capture. The Department of Energy and Bureau of Land Management are both basically in control of fossil fuels companies. 22 thousand permits to drill for oil and gas, or to mine for coal on public lands, owned by all of us as taxpayers, have been granted. And they use 144 million acres. If you're just on 8% of that you can power all of the United States with solar. 120 requests for solar permits were given to BLM and they went like "Oh my gosh we're overwhelmed, we have to take an 18 months moratorium, for considering permits anymore..." It's not equitable. We need to implement an emission trading system, and a carbon tax, and increase it every year. This is the map, this is an other badge of honor: Mexico has an emission trading system, and they have a carbon tax. And then finally make companies clean up their mess. You can cause companies to have to pull all of the carbon dioxide out of their air. Even if I'm wrong about this, and even if I'm wrong about solar, Mark Jacobson of Stanford has said that solar in his model being fossil free only accounts for 40%. So what does solar world look like? $500 billion in subsidies saved a year, $886 billion healthcare costs, 4 1/2 trillion gallons of water, energy abundance. Last thing is, there's no technological or economic barrier to converting the entire world to clean renewable energy, it's a question of whether we have the societal and political will. Thank you very much.

Video Details

Duration: 20 minutes and 50 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: None
Views: 122
Posted by: davidorban on Sep 2, 2014

This talk was given at a local TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences. On July 4, 2030 Alex Lightman Would like to declare a different kind of Independence, one from fossil fuels. Going step by step , Lightman reveals the impact on the health system by doing this, and then shows step by step how this monumental task could be achieved by 2030.

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