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The United States can help lead the world to renewable energy adoption, a sustainable economy and society, and ecological and wildlife stabilization and balance. There is no valid reason this cannot be the case. Those with vested interests in the status quo continue to naysay, but there are so many reasons for hope, even in the Mountain State.

A recent article in Forbes by contributor Michael Taylor is an example of how far we’ve come. The article, titled “EV Range Breakthrough As New Aluminum-Ion Battery Charges 60 Times Faster Than Lithium-Ion,” discusses how graphene aluminum-ion battery cells from the Brisbane-based Graphene Manufacturing Group in Australia are said to charge 60 times faster than lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and hold three times the energy of the best aluminum-based cells to date.

This development will help solve problems such as long charge times, range-per-charge anxiety, recyclability, costs, space availability, temperature control, and environmental degradation and global commodities trade issues with lithium. Graphene can even be made from hemp, which could potentially improve the power of these batteries and lower their cost even further. Aluminum is much more easily recoverable and ideally sourced than lithium.

Another recent article in Forbes (“The Dam Has Broken And West Virginia Has Awoken To Solar Power,” by Ken Silverstein) discusses the work of Revolt Energy, co-founded by Keena Mullins and Zach Drennan, which is now a subsidiary of Nitro Construction Services. Companies like these are bringing both large-scale commercial and residential solar installs, and Revolt is a union shop paying livable wages and providing good benefits. These companies, and many more, are revealing the massive potential for solar in West Virginia.

Solar has become so cheap and efficient that even a West Virginia Legislature controlled by a Republican supermajority has passed legislation to expand its use in the state. As the Forbes article states, “Last year, West Virginia legislators passed bills so that the two biggest utilities — American Electric Power and FirstEnergy Corp. — could install solar power in 50-megawatt increments. The Legislature also passed a law allowing solar developers to enter into ‘power purchase agreements’ with churches, schools and municipalities — contracts that give them guaranteed sales at fixed prices.”

An article by Mike Tony, of the Charleston Gazette-Mail, recently discussed how, according to the Energy Information Administration, “Coal-fired electric power plants accounted for 91% of West Virginia’s electricity net generation in 2019. But coal accounted for just 23% of the nation’s net electricity overall that year.” The article also mentioned that, “The carbon intensity of West Virginia’s economy — metric tons of energy-related carbon dioxide per dollars of gross domestic product—was second-highest in the country in 2018, behind only Wyoming and nearly as much as Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania combined.”

Clearly, West Virginia has a lot of work to do. Metallurgical coal still has a place in our economy until such time as something like green hydrogen — hydrogen for energy use created when electrolysis employs an electric current to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, and that electricity is provided by renewable energy — can become dominant in the production of high energy-intensity processes like steel and cement-making. However, thermal coal for energy production has seen its day.

Through a combination of deploying existing technologies at scale (as occurred recently when the Department of the Interior approved permitting for a large wind installation off the coast of Massachusetts) and developing new and improved technologies (as with the EV battery breakthrough), we can address global climate, ecological and biodiversity crises, while not sacrificing economic development and the quality of life of our citizenry. The co-benefits to our health and wellness will be outstanding. All we need now is the political will.

Eric Engle is chairman of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action, a board member for the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and co-chairman of Sierra Club of West Virginia’s executive committee.

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