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A Global Shift to Renewable Energy: But Will it be Fast Enough?

As fossil fuel prices rise, as oil insecurity deepens, and as concerns about climate change cast a shadow over the future of coal, a new energy economy is emerging. The old energy economy, fueled by oil, coal, and natural gas, is being replaced by one powered by wind, solar, and geothermal energy. Despite the global economic crisis, this energy transition is moving at a pace and on a scale that we could not have imagined even two years ago. And it is a worldwide phenomenon.

Consider Texas. Long the leading U.S. oil-producing state, it is now also the leading generator of electricity from wind, having overtaken California in 2006. Texas now has 9,700 megawatts of wind generating capacity online, 370 more in the construction stage, and a huge amount in the development stage. When all of these wind farms are completed, Texas will have 53,000 megawatts of wind generating capacity -- the equivalent of 53 coal-fired power plants. This will more than satisfy the residential needs of the state's 25 million people, enabling Texas to export electricity, just as it has long exported oil.

Texas is not alone. In South Dakota, a wind-rich, sparsely populated state, development has begun on a vast 5,050-megawatt wind farm (1 megawatt of wind capacity supplies 300 U.S. homes) that when completed will produce nearly five times as much electricity as the 810,000 people living in the state need. Altogether, some 10 states in the United States, most of them in the Greatt Plains, and several Canadian provinces are planning to export wind energy.

Across the Atlantic, the government of Scotland is negotiating with two sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East to invest $7 billion in a grid in the North Sea off its eastern coast. This grid will enable Scotland to develop nearly 60,000 megawatts of off-shore wind generating capacity, close to the 85,000 megawatts of current electrical generating capacity for the United Kingdom.   

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