It's going to take a lot more than changing lightbulbs to get us on the path to sustainability. We investigate the options (solar? nuclear? cow poop?), what's hype, and what's really happening.
Pay 'em not to drill
Energywise, shopping malls are the Hummers of the retail world. So why not cover those acres of empty roofs and parking spaces with PV panels? Enter Destiny USA, a 1.3-million-square-foot renewable-energy-powered addition to a mall in Syracuse, New York. A solar array covering the parking lot will provide about 12 percent of the power, and the builders say on-site wind, fuel cells, biofuel, and hydroelectric will provide the rest. The project is not purely altruistic: The developer's solar shopping spree is backed by local and state tax breaks and federal green-building bonds.
Get Your Utility to Use Less Power
Pacific Gas and Electric bombards Californians with energy-saving tips, rebates for efficient appliances, and even free CFL bulbs. Why would the company prod consumers to pay it less? This strategy is not as absurd as it sounds: The utility is into conservation because it pays off. The state gives PG&E a fixed annual payment for its power, divorcing revenue from sales in a move known as "decoupling." To boost profits, the utility encourages customers to use less energy—and spend less. It works: Energy use per capita has increased nationally over the last 30 years, while the Golden State's has remained flat. Thirteen other states have similar setups. But utility analyst Matt Jordan says the California approach works in part because most of its energy is relatively clean and expensive. In areas where power is dirty but cheap (say, coal), conservation is a harder sell for both consumers and utilities, he says. "If you have an environmental motive and you can't spin it through an economic motive, nothing is going to get done."
Greening the Pentagon
Say what you will about Guantanamo Bay, but America's gulag gets 30 percent of its power from on-site wind turbines. Surprising? Maybe not, considering the Pentagon, which uses 78 percent of the federal government's power, is also vying to be the country's largest consumer of earth-friendly energy, along with Intel and Pepsi. Nearly 12 percent of DOD facilities' electric consumption now comes from renewables. And the Air Force alone accounts for 40 percent of the entire federal government's renewable energy usage, perhaps because it is trying to offset its profligate use of jet fuel.