Who’s Winning – Alternative Energy or the Environment?

I wrote this blog as a response to a technical discussion started by Bob Brothers of MTBC…

There is no doubt that the need for energy is a degenerating situation that will not resolve itself.  Every person who will be driving a car 16 years from now in the year 2026 is already born.  There is no question when it comes to calculating the demand for energy. While the situation is degenerating it is not at the point of being life threatening – yet. However, the scarcity of oil in 1970’s and the recent high prices were clearly warning signs that it could become a life threatening situation for our economy in a very short period of time.

The solutions for providing alternative sources of energy already exist. The problem has been solved. We have the technology to become an energy independent nation.

The real problem that we face is a transition from a system that relies heavily on oil which is provided largely by nations who are not motivated by our best interests to a system of alternative energies where we can become energy independent. The transition is problematic for a number of reasons. If we were to adopt electric vehicles the current power grid would not be capable of supporting the demand. One electic car consumes the power of three homes. Can you imagine the impact on the power grid if three homes were added to every home on your street?  Brown outs and black outs would be common place. So there are steps that need to be taken before we can achieve that solution.

Using an alternative fuel like natural gas might be a temporary solution since it too has a limited supply and would not be sustainable for hundreds of years. There is currently no distribution system for natural gas and the political or economic will does not seem to be there.

The real problem is that our leaders at the state and national level have failed to take action. The Department of Energy was established with the mission of America becoming energy independent. How has the DOE done over the past 30 years?  Their focus has been on energy efficiency such as replacing incandescent bulbs or more efficient vehicles. For 30 years they have failed to provide a comprehensive energy plan. As recently as October 7, 2009, they admit that there is no long term plan in place. http://www.energy.gov/8112.htm.

In a recent posting on the DOE web site, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke are calling for a comprehensive energy plan. But the thinking on this matter is far from comprehensive. They said, “If we create the right incentives on energy, it will drive the demand for clean energy and efficiency…”  What if they were successful and everyone bought an electric car?  The results would be disasterous because the energy grid cannot handle the load.

A comprehensive energy plan needs to be written, supported and implemented.  The role of the Department of Energy should be to pave the way by unleashing innovation and eliminating onerous regulations that are currently in place and improving our power grid.  It is the job of our elected officials to provide the legislation that puts the plan into action. I believe that free markets can solve this problem.  I think that meaningless incentives won’t do much to change things and it is likely to be life threatening to the economy of the United States.  We have already seen our economy threatened twice in the past 50 years and have failed to take action.

So – who’s winning when it comes to alternative energy and the environment?  Nobody – but what do I know?


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