All-Electric America: A Climate Solution and the Hopeful Future
By S. David Freeman & Leah Y Parks. 223 pages. Solar Flare Press. Available from online booksellers.
This book was a surprise and a revelation. What it does, no less, is propose in the strongest terms that America’s electric utilities do two things: (1) step forward boldly and supplant energy suppliers that fuel our buildings and transportation sectors, both of them high-energy use and high carbon emitting and (2) as quickly as possible, end use of fossil-fueled generation and replace it with renewable energy.
Assessing the fortunate position in which the US finds itself, with wind and solar having reached near parity with even record-low gas fired generation, Freeman and Parks methodically go through the recent data on alternative fuels and technology, including storage and energy efficiency—albeit with little mention of the enormous potential of demand response—and see the way forward as clear.
Before I go further, an admission: I knew something of what to expect in the book because co-author Leah Parks is an associate editor of our online journal, ElectricityPolicy.com, and because I have known and admired Dave Freeman for years.
What I did not expect was that Freeman—a consummate phrase maker and a quick draw with a quip—who for years has urged utilities to aggressively support electric vehicles, would painstakingly document the whys and wherefores of his proposals. But to the authors’ credit, the last 63 pages of the manuscript house 278 endnotes, sourced to each of the book’s 14 chapters.
The six chapters of the Part I, The Promise, sets the context, reviewing the promise and the limitations of available technologies. Section II, Obstacles, gets to “The Hidden Truth about Natural Gas,” concludes we should “Keep It in the Ground,” and ends with “Nuclear Energy: Spare Us the Cure.”
Part III details the opportunities in pursuing a carbon-free and methane free path. Part IV ends boldly, with a detailed action plan for the City of Los Angeles, whose municipal utility Freeman led for several years. It concludes, in something of a stretch, I thought, suggesting “An All-Electric Energy Policy Act.” What should we do with the gas and oil and coal we’re producing or that’s still in the ground? Perhaps that will be the subject of another book.
The most trenchant contribution of “All-Electric America,” I believe, is the ten-page chapter on “The Hidden Truth about Natural Gas,” about which we are deluding ourselves in believing it to be significantly less dangerous a greenhouse gas than coal. When the full fuel cycle of natural gas is taken into account—fugitive methane from wells, leaks from pipelines and storage facilities, and from distribution networks in aging city infrastructure—it seems clear than GHG-free renewable energy would vastly improve the heating and cooling of our buildings.
Check it out. Of course, there are a few glitches here and there, but the strong vision of the role that clean electricity could play in sectors it has barely touched—buildings and transportation—is compelling.