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As more information comes to the surface about climate change, many of us might be wondering what kinds of remedies might be instituted in Nevada – and how quickly.

George Rhee teaches physics at UNLV and he developed a climate change calculator.

The NV 2050 calculator helps users discover what would happen if we continued on the path we are currently on, if we made a major effort to switch to renewable energy and if we landed somewhere in between.

The idea is to see what Nevada could do to get to the goal laid out by the International Panel on Climate Change, which said the globe needs to reduce fossil fuel emissions to 20 percent of what they were in 1990 to avoid hitting the 2-degree increase in temperatures.

“The idea is to try to model Nevada’s energy use on supply and demand to see what it would take to achieve the goal,” Rhee said, “The idea of the calculator is to see what it would take.”

Rhee said there are lots of options in Nevada for renewable energy, but there is a vocal minority of people who don't like any of those options.

“The idea was to promote positive thinking," he said, "Rather than tell me what you don’t want. Tell me what combination of these things you would like and then let’s see if there is some kind of consensus that emerges among the public."

Support comes from

For instance, some people may not see the need for renewable energy but there is an economic benefit to renewable energy that would be a reason for them to support it. Boulder City, for example, makes millions by selling energy to California. 

When you use the calculator, you can set all kinds of variables not just using more or less renewables but which kind of renewable and you can set the other side of the coin -- demand.

“But of course, it’s not simply a problem of renewable supply," Rhee said, "It is also a problem of demand. So, the problem becomes easier if we use less electricity.”

Rhee said that if we covered Nevada in solar panels we could generate more energy than the entire United States uses, but covering the pristine desert with solar panels is not an option.

While that may not be an option, putting more rooftop solar panels up in the state could be an option. So, in the calculator, you can choose that as a way to address climate change but that leads you to the problem of storage.

Solar power can't be used at night, which means we must address the issue of storing that power or finding a source that will power the city when it's dark or cloudy.

Rhee said the calculator provides almost a wish list of things that could happen - if we really wanted them to.

“What pathway can we adopt from getting to point A, which is where we are now, to point B, which is where we would like to be to solve the climate problem,” he said.

Rhee understands that the calculator won't solve the issue but he hopes it sparks discussion.

“It’s the beginning of a discussion. This thing isn’t the answer," he said, “It’s going to improve the discussion and refine it to where we’re really looking at realistic solutions. I think the urgency of this problem is going to increase with time and people are going to want to look at this more carefully.”

He said like efforts in the past, for example, getting American astronauts to the moon or defeating the Nazis in World War II, addressing climate change will take a global effort but the technology to address it exists and is available, even in a small state like Nevada.  

Professor George Rhee/Photography by Brent Holmes

From Desert Companion: Do The Math

Guests

George Rhee, professor, Physics and Astronomy Dept. at UNLV

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