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Is an all-electric economy a possibility?

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

simmet@agrinews.com

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Building an all-electric economy powered largely by renewable energy is Wally Rippel’s answer to solving the problems of worldwide depletion of oil and global warming.

A keynote speaker at the recent I-Renew Energy and Sustainability Expo on campus of the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Rippel proposes powering his all-electric economy with wind, solar, geothermal, some natural gas, hydro power and biofuels.

"We will do all we currently do with electricity, but add heat and transportation to that," Rippel said.

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He proposes installing 1 trillion watts of wind power by 2018.

"That will take a $1 trillion investment, the same investment as the Iraq War," Rippel said.

The second prong of Rippel’s proposal is making plug-in hybrids the automotive standard by 2018. Cars driven 30 to 40 miles per day could run on battery power. Longer distances could be powered by biofuels.

Developing an all-electric economy will require a tremendous investment in products, research and education, but it will be a tremendous boost for the economy and the environment.

"Imagine if we led the world in reducing carbon dioxide emissions," Rippel said. "This could be our finest hour in the United States."

A long-time proponent of electric vehicles, Rippel was an engineer for AeroVironment, where he helped develop the EV1 electric car for General Motors and was featured in the documentary movie, "Who Killed the Electric Car?"

Rippel has also worked for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on electric vehicle battery research, among other projects. In 1968, as a Caltech undergraduate student, he built an electric car (a converted 1958 Volkswagen microbus) and won the Great Transcontinental Electric Car Race against MIT. Until recently, Rippel worked for Tesla Motors, manufacturer of the Tesla Roadster electric sports car.

Rippel said basic science education is a key in building understanding about the problems and solutions facing the country in terms of oil depletion and global warming.

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"I think we’re off to a good start, but there is a lot of hard work to be done," he said. "It will be like World War II times six."

The Expo featured 70 workshops, 80 exhibitors and demonstrations providing information on renewable energy, energy efficiency, green buildings, renewable fuels and sustainable living.

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