Alternative Energy & New Federalism

Solar Farm

One of the interesting observations I’ve had over the past few weeks is that no matter where on the political spectrum our readers are, they all believe we have to get off our oil addiction. Some of you have sent me some very cool articles on alternative energy and it now appears that both solar and wind could contribute a lot more to our power needs at a reasonable price. And in keeping with my belief that the solutions to our innovation puzzle will be regional, its obvious that every part of the country has different needs and capabilities. There is no Centralized,Top-down solution to moving away from OPEC. But as the Scientific American states, the potential for these clean energy solutions is vast.

Well-meaning scientists, engineers, economists and politicians have proposed various steps that could slightly reduce fossil-fuel use and emissions. These steps are not enough. The U.S. needs a bold plan to free itself from fossil fuels. Our analysis convinces us that a massive switch to solar power is the logical answer.

Solar energy’s potential is off the chart. The energy in sunlight striking the earth for 40 minutes is equivalent to global energy consumption for a year. The U.S. is lucky to be endowed with a vast resource; at least 250,000 square miles of land in the Southwest alone are suitable for constructing solar power plants, and that land receives more than 4,500 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of solar radiation a year. Converting only 2.5 percent of that radiation into electricity would match the nation’s total energy consumption in 2006.

In the Times article on the massive growth of wind farms in Texas, you can feel the wildcatter energy. Oil man Boone Pickens is jumping in with both feet.

“I have the same feelings about wind,” Mr. Pickens said in an interview, “as I had about the best oil field I ever found.” He is planning to build the biggest wind farm in the world, a $10 billion behemoth that could power a small city by itself.

When John Wesley Powell was sent to explore the Colorado River in 1867, he emerged in the Utah Territory from the terrifying ordeal of running rapids the size of a house in a small wooden rowboat. When he finally wrote his report back to the government he stated that the southwest part of the United States was uninhabitable desert with biting winds that did not have enough precipitation to sustain human communities. That of course is exactly what would make the Southwest the center of the alternative solar/wind energy complex.

To the skeptics who will point out that the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow, the solution is obviously storage of energy. The Scientists have figured that out to0.

Compressed-air energy storage has emerged as a successful alternative. Electricity from photovoltaic plants compresses air and pumps it into vacant underground caverns, abandoned mines, aquifers and depleted natural gas wells. The pressurized air is released on demand to turn a turbine that generates electricity, aided by burning small amounts of natural gas. Compressed-air energy storage plants have been operating reliably in Huntorf, Germany, since 1978 and in McIntosh, Ala., since 1991. The turbines burn only 40 percent of the natural gas they would if they were fueled by natural gas alone, and better heat recovery technology would lower that figure to 30 percent.

Studies by the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, Calif., indicate that the cost of compressed-air energy storage today is about half that of lead-acid batteries. The research indicates that these facilities would add three or four cents per kWh to photovoltaic generation, bringing the total 2020 cost to eight or nine cents per kWh.

Obviously building such massive infrastructure is expensive at first, but cheaper to maintain. I still think that Tom Friedman’s Patriot Tax on gasoline is the best idea for financing it. Phase in over two years a $1 per gallon tax on gas which would generate $146 billion in revenue. Let 85% go to the states to finance local public-private alternative energy projects like wind and solar farms. Allow States to fast track small nuclear plants if they choose. The other 15% would go to the National Science Foundation to finance research on Next Gen Hydrogen and other clean fuel research. Gas would be a bit closer to the price paid in Europe and Asia and so the move towards more efficient automobiles would be market oriented rather than mandated.

This entry was posted in Business, Economics, Technology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to Alternative Energy & New Federalism

  1. doug newhouse says:

    a gas tax is an excellent idea–like a cigarette tax–reduces demand and raises money–it will never happen—doug

  2. T.N. Morgan says:

    Solar and wind should be developed, but they won’t solve our dependence on foreign oil. Of the approximately 20 million barrels of oil that the U.S. consumes each day, 13-14 million barrels/day are imported. Interestingly, that matches closely with the amount imported (12 million barrels/day), since two thirds of the oil consumed by the U.S. is for transportation.

    So don’t count on solar and wind to significantly affect our dependence on foreign energy supplies. Developing these technologies merely offsets existing domestic energy sources like coal and natural gas.

    We should pursue Solar and Wind power to cleanly help meet growing domestic power demand. However, we must use a different set of technologies to eliminate our increasingly untenable dependence on foreign oil. Engineer and Scientist Robert Zubrin goes into great detail in his recent book “ENERGY VICTORY” on how we could transition to a methanol/ethanol/biofuel based transportation system and thus eliminate the economic and political threats imposed by our dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

  3. Clayton says:

    What about Nuclear power? It’s my understanding that building new plants is becoming cheaper as large companies like GE invest in R&D for european facilities. They’ll become cheaper still if we build more plants here in the U.S. Aside from the issue of spent fuel storage (which is a big one), there’s not much to lose.

  4. T.N. Morgan says:

    Correction. The last line of my first paragraph should read:

    “Interestingly, that matches closely with the 12 million barrels/day consumed by the U.S. for transportation.”

  5. Jon Taplin says:

    Clayton- I made a brief mention of nuclear in the post. I agree that we need to reevaluate our aversion to Nuclear. The French run 75% of their electrical grid off of small nuclear plants and have not had an accident in 30 years.

  6. Don says:

    Jon – “The French run 75% of their electrical grid off of small nuclear plants and have not had an accident in 30 years.”

    It only takes one.

    What about the waste (where do we put that?)?

    Don

  7. gosch says:

    Hello.
    Please don’t go nuclear.
    I am from Germany and we’re phasing out of nuclear energy in the next 30 years.

    For one, what are we going to do with the nuclear waste? Up until now we’re storing it in underground “Zwischenlager”, but as the name implies, that’s just a interim solution. No one knows how to get rid of that stuff.

    And I don’t exactly know how to bring this across, but nuclear energy is just way to dangerous.

    It is highly unlikely for something bad to happen, but when it does we’ll be really be fucked.
    Thousands, maybe millions of casualties and huge landscapes that are completly unusable for thousands of years.

    there is no way to guarantee safety in the face of those worst case scenarios.
    just for example, the nasa probably has the strictest quality control in the world. Still columbia happened.

  8. Zhirem says:

    I believe that I have a possible solution to the nuclear problem. Ironically enough, it will require greater investment in the national space program, and/or opening up space technology and operations to the private sector. Humor me a minute:

    What is required in this case, is a rock-solid, completely dependable launch vehicle. Don’t think shuttle, think rocket. Three-stages at least (likely anyway). The tough thing is, it will need to be fairly cheap. It will not have to be reusable, though we could engineer methods to re-use the initial stage 1 boosters.

    Then, once we have a *completely dependable* system, or at least controllable in the event of malfunction, we load our nuclear waste as the payload, make certain the container is engineered to the highest standard, and launch rockets as a means of hazardous waste disposal.

    Desination: The Sun. One big giant nuclear reaction anyway, and all we have to do is to get the rocket relatively close, because the gravity well generated by the Sun will do the rest.

    The biggest downfall to this plan that I can see is the safety factor, and I would need for someone to inform me of how much (tonnage) material we would need to be ridding ourselves of.

    I now open myself to the inevitable backlash of positing such an idea into an open forum…

    ;)

    – Zhirem

  9. Mark Murphy says:

    @T.N.Morgan:

    “So don’t count on solar and wind to significantly affect our dependence on foreign energy supplies.”

    That depends on how we solve the transportation energy issue. If we go with your “methanol/ethanol/biofuel” solution for most of it, then you’re right, solar/wind/hydro may not impact transportation energy much. In those cases, we’re using alternative chemicals to power our engines.

    We could, however, wind up moving to more electrical-based engines. That could be direct (plug-in hybrids, EVs) or indirect (electricity to crack water for hydrogen for use in fuel cells). In those cases, solar/wind/hydro can help us add more electricity to the grid without burning more coal, while the move to electric-based transportation energy cuts the dependence on foreign oil.

    Part of the challenge will be in dealing with trucks. While hybrid engines may help, neither plug-in nor EV likely will any time soon, due to the distances they travel and the energy required to schlep a trailer around — they’d need way too many batteries. For them, biofuels or fuel cells would be more likely. But, trucks use less oil overall than do passenger vehicles (EPA says 40% of total oil use is passenger vehicles — http://www.epa.gov/fueleconomy/420f04053.htm).

    And, yes, I drive a Prius.

  10. Morgan Warstler says:

    FFV – make the engines in three years time run on any damn thing you stick in it. Ths will do wonders.

    Taxes – make local food production/consumption tax free. Make investments in alt.fuel tax deductible.

    Nuclear sun rockets – sure.

    Blimps are cool.

  11. Rick Turner says:

    We need:

    1) Old solar technology installed on every south facing roof…for heating hot water. Every BTU saved is a BTU that can be used for something else. Tax credits, changes in building codes, whatever it takes on that one…

    2) A “Manhattan Project” level R&D project to get solar photovoltaic technology cheaper and better.

    3) The solar and wind and other practical alternative energy industries need the same kind of help given directly and indirectly by the US government to the nuclear industry. It’s the indirect subsidies to the nuke biz that would really blow minds. They include all the military R&D done by Westinghouse for nuclear submarine power plants…that then resulted in their pretty dirty designs for power plants.

    3) The nuke thing is a very slippery slope. Perhaps more R&D needs to go into converting low level but completely unsafe radiation into something useful. It’s hard to believe that there’s so much energy coming out of spent nuke rods that they’re unsafe, yet cannot be made to deliver some sort of useful energy.

    3)

  12. Zhirem says:

    To riff off of what Mark Murphy posted above, I can foresee a continued short term, to middle-term need for continued use of the internal combustion engine. That said however, let’s think about what may be the majority of transportation energy-usage in the US: the commute. If we could have a reliable, affordable individual transportation option (i.e. car), that was totally electric, and had a range of 80 miles on a charge, that would handle most (I am thinking anyway), of the needs of the average commuter? Wouldn’t that enable us to get our daily drivers off of the petroleum-smack?

    Now, another couple of considerations: a rooftop of solar panels, shape them to the body contours so they would not affect aerodynamics or style lines, but could suck up free energy from the parking lot all day.

    Infrastructure idea: have leads on the front of these cars coupled with a new installed base of parking meters or poles that would enable the public to plug in their four-wheeled batteries to contribute to the grid or charge from the grid as needed.

    Feasibility idea: have the cars in the garages charge up off-peak hours in their garages at 2:30am at night or the like.

    Creating something like that would be doable with current technology, would create boatloads of new jobs, and be really cool (in a nerdy, geekesque kind of way)…

    – Zhirem

  13. T.N. Morgan says:

    @Mark Murphy

    “We could, however, wind up moving to more electrical-based engines. That could be direct (plug-in hybrids, EVs) or indirect (electricity to crack water for hydrogen for use in fuel cells). In those cases, solar/wind/hydro can help us add more electricity to the grid without burning more coal, while the move to electric-based transportation energy cuts the dependence on foreign oil.”

    The all-electric approach has a few very big and very expensive problems preventing it from replacing our need for foreign oil in the next several decades:

    – Need for MASSIVE infrastructure development of sources (solar & wind), storage (at generators), and upgraded distribution system (powerlines) nationwide.

    – Costly public acquisition of land on a scale not seen since the creation of the Interstate Highway System.

    – Battery technology is still the limiting factor in electric/hybrid deployment. One reason your Prius likely cost $4000-$5000 more than a similarly sized vehicle was (and still is) an inability to produce the batteries fast enough or cheap enough. Manufacturers want to produce them faster, but there is limited manufacturing capacity. Also, they are competing with a more lucrative personal electronics market. Battery efficiency and capacity per unit weight aren’t where they need to be either to be cost competitive. Widespread production could help bring the cost down, but this likely will take several decades to become competitive with liquid fuels.

    -Hydrogen fuel cells are limited by the horrendous inefficiencies of splitting hydrogen out of water (you don’t get to cheat and reform natural gas if you’re all solar), inefficient storage mechanisms, hydrogen “boil-off” problems, and expensive/hard to obtain platinum catalysts for the fuel cells. Hydrogen is a solution looking for a problem, and has been for 30 years.

    – Solar and wind are still not cost competitive with coal. Given that coal is about $35 per ton, this isn’t likely to change soon even with higher cost “green & clean” coal plants. Plus, coal can also be used to create methanol for flex-fuel vehicles.

    I could go on, but that gives the essentials. I do think we should go full steam ahead with developing solar and wind power, as well as hyprid and all-electric vehicles. While I do think that mandating flex-fuel vehicles (ala Zubrin’s “ENERGY VICTORY”) is the fastest and best way to break the back of OPEC, I also think we should have as diverse energy supply market as possible. That way, no matter what happens we will be more resillient and resistant to future supply problems.

  14. Orodemniades says:

    Nuclear is a great idea apart from that pesky waste problem (and I’m talking about soft waste as well as hard waste). I know, I used to work in a nuclear power plant and I can tell you that if you think the NRC is a regulatory body with a spine, you are sadly mistaken.

    The local nuclear power plant, now in operation since 1972, is about to get its license renewed for the next 20 years. The NRC says it’s ‘safe’ despite the partial collapse of one of the *wooden* cooling towers and the archaic control method. You really do not want to know how frequently the plant scrams as controls fail and alarms tripped. Best part of all? The company that currently owns the plant does not have to sell power to the state – even though they’re going to ramp up production by some 30% (having already done 20%). In fact, that majority of the power they create is sold to other states, while we import power from Canada and New York – nice work if you can get it!

    What I particularly love is their reasoning for wanting to extend their license: it will currently cost over $1 billion to decommission the plant, so they’re going to ‘earn’ the $1 billion by selling more power over the next 20 years. Hmm, and I wonder what the cost of decommissioning is going to be, then?

    So, yeah, I’m not a big fan of nuclear. I’m not against the technology just because, no, I’m against it because I know the people who run the plants, the people who work in the plants, and the NRC, which makes NASA looks like a fabulous organization by comparison.

    Just sayin’.

  15. Clayton says:

    Much of the negative talk I hear about nuclear power is based on the errors made (meltdowns and accidents) and precedents set (high waste) with what is now obsolete or soon to be obsolete technology.

    There are new reactor types such as pebble bed reactors that produce much less waste, are relatively cheap to build and maintain, and cannot suffer meltdowns. Almost all generation IV reactors will operate with similar parameters. Additional in-the-works reactor technologies close to development use spent fuel from wasteful reactors and could potentially use waste from years past if/when transportation of that waste becomes economical and safe.

  16. Jon Taplin says:

    T.N. Morgan-Read deep into the Scientific American article I referenced in the post. They make a pretty convincing argument that the energy storage question can be solved at a reasonable cost.

  17. Orodemniades says:

    Clayton, I can guarantee that you have not even heard of 95% of the accidents that occur in plants. Unless you’re in the industry, these incidents are simply not reported to the world at large.

  18. clayton says:

    Orodemniades, you might be right, but what does that matter with rapidly changing nuclear technology? Do you honestly think the conditions are any different at other types of plants? If they’re not, the only difference remaining between nuclear and non nuclear, centrally produced power is the risk present with heated, unstable nuclear fuels. Virtually idiot proof technology seems to be a mere 20-30 years down the road, so accidents easy enough to cover up seem of little consequence to the future of nuclear energy.

    Diversification achieved with small nuclear plants would greatly increase the sustainability of an expensive, untested infrastructure based around solar and wind energy. That’s why I think it would be a shame to discount nuclear energy based on a paradigm of paranoia. It’s also a lot more practical to reform an industry with the potential of nuclear power than it is to scrap it.

  19. thegiantsnail says:

    Zhirem steals his ideas from Superman.

    From what I understand, modern nuclear facilities can’t meltdown. As for toxic waste, there are only a few products that last more than a hundred years. But we’re talking about minuscule amounts. A coal plant uses several train loads of coal per day, a nuclear plant uses a truckload a year. It’s a lot harder to capture and store all of that released CO2 than to capture and store nuclear waste.

  20. Rick Turner says:

    One of the behind the scenes issues we’re dealing with is that some technologies…nuclear and most of the hydrogen proposals…are “best” accomplished by large monopolistic organizations which concentrate political power as well as energy power into the hands of the few who have a choke hold on distribution. Does anyone remember Enron?

    Solar and some wind power sources are extremely widely distributed generators which can use the power grid as a kind of storage mechanism that evens out distribution. But of course, it literally takes power away from the few and puts it in the hands of the many.

    The ultimate historical example of this was Nicola Tesla’s dream of “tickling” energy out of the earth’s atmosphere. Once his capitalist backers…Vanderbilt, etc….realized that Tesla wanted to give power to the people for free, they kept him on just long enough of a financial leash that he thought his dreams might be realized…but short enough a leash that he never could rebuild the Wardencliffe Tesla coil to test his theories. His scheme may never have been possible, but what is interesting is how he was stymied by those whose short term economic interests might be harmed by low cost or free distributed energy. Those same forces are working today to see that energy distribution can be tightly controlled. They do not want to see more houses, schools, and industrial plants become energy self-sufficient.

    But that is what should happen, and perhaps the power grid should be nationalized and/or taken over by the states in much the same manner as the road and highway system is now. Producers of energy, large and small, could be paid from taxes, and the tax system would pay for the upkeep of the power grid just as it pays for roads, streets, and highways now. Costs could be shared among states, counties, and municipalities.

    One more reason to produce power on a local level is that the closer the source is to the load, the less power is lost in transmission. A distributed power system could work mostly at reduced voltages, thus requiring fewer high tension transmission lines, fewer transformers, etc. Aside from the circuits that balance phase and voltage at the connection points, the overall infrastructure might be cheaper with less need to send power hundreds and hundreds of miles.

  21. Clayton says:

    Rick, local power on the level you’re speaking seems much further off than safe, affordable nuclear power. Why not, then, apply new, safe nuclear technology now? Later, if locally produced power reaches critical mass, the chokehold of large monopolistic organizations evaporates. Or are we both just being very optimistic??

  22. Mark Murphy says:

    @T.N. Morgan:

    “Need for MASSIVE infrastructure development of sources (solar & wind), storage (at generators), and upgraded distribution system (powerlines) nationwide.”

    Half of this will be needed regardless of whether we go plug-in hybrid/EV or not: our power distribution system is creaking, as the blackouts and brownouts of the past decade have demonstrated. Just normal increases in power usage, ignoring vehicular use, will require revamping our infrstructure.

    With respect to sources and storage, you’ll need that for any alt.fuels initiative — it’s not like biofuel makes and ships itself.

    “Costly public acquisition of land on a scale not seen since the creation of the Interstate Highway System.”

    For…what? If you mean solar and wind farms, some of that will go offshore (particularly wind), some of it will go on existing federal land (US Southwest is largely owned by the Federal gov’t, last I looked). Some will likely have to be purchased. Also bear in mind that solar/wind is not going to be a 100% solution. Some areas of the US aren’t necessarily conducive to either, such as the Northeast, which will still wind up using coal for some power generation, I suspect.

    “Battery technology is still the limiting factor in electric/hybrid deployment.”

    No question, but it’s getting better. Scuttlebutt has that Toyota is going lithium ion for the next-gen Prius, which in theory would be this coming model year. Also, it’s not like anyone is proposing this all get done in the next half-hour. Over 10-20 years, given concerted R&D effort, I suspect some of these engineering limitations will be less of an issue. In the meantime, pure EV is largely out, and plug-in hybrid ranges on batteries will be low-but-increasing. The hope with the next-gen Prius is 10-20 mile range on batteries alone, IIRC.

    “Hydrogen fuel cells are limited by the horrendous inefficiencies of splitting hydrogen out of water”

    Yup. Personally, I think that battery tech will progress faster for vehicles than will fuel cells. Mostly, I mentioned fuel cells since Bush advocated the hydrogen economy, so in theory there’s some investment already being made in R&D.

    “Solar and wind are still not cost competitive with coal. Given that coal is about $35 per ton, this isn’t likely to change soon even with higher cost “green & clean” coal plants.”

    The price of coal is closer to $135/metric ton, not $35. “Power-station coal prices gained US$13.68 to reach US$139 a metric ton on Friday February 15 [2008], up 11% from the previous week, according to the globalCOAL NEWC Index.” (http://www.mineweb.com/mineweb/view/mineweb/en/page38?oid=47685&sn=Detail)

    The price of coal has more than doubled in the past year-and-change, and there’s no slowdown on the horizon, as far as I’ve been able to read.

    Sheer inflation dictates that any power source with paid-for inputs will increase in price more than power source with fee-free inputs. You gotta buy coal and oil; you don’t gotta buy sun and wind. Inflation *will* affect the construction costs of solar arrays and wind farms, but those are up-front sunk costs, and new coal-fired plants will increase in cost too.

    My understanding is that wind is already price-competitive with traditional power sources, but solar is behind.

    “Plus, coal can also be used to create methanol for flex-fuel vehicles.”

    And if that happens, the price of coal climbs, because demand increases, just like the cost of food climbs if corn gets used for ethanol.

    All that being said, I’m not saying that biofuels are evil, just that solar/wind and plug-in hybrid/EV shouldn’t be tossed out on its ear. Personally, I’m a fan of the algae-based biofuel efforts.

  23. Jon Taplin says:

    @Mark Murphy-Your last post was both fabulous and comprehensive. I have heard from friends at Toyota that the plug in Hybrid you mention could be sold in California by late 2009.

  24. Rick Turner says:

    If you want to see where battery technology is going next, just look at the cell phone and rechargeable battery powered hand tool industries. Cell phones and MP3 players, etc. and getting tiny, and the tool scene is interesting as they require a very high amp-hour capacity to be useful, and weight is a real issue for ergonomics. There’s a lot going on with the “smart chargers” too.

  25. Zhirem says:

    Umbrage, Giant Snail. I take umbrage with that remark. Accusing myself of intellectual theft of a fictional character, and a comic book character to boot, well… I am beside myself…

    Heh.

    That said, I can honestly say that I did not ‘lift’ that idea from any Kryptonian at all. I can’t say as to when I had it first (many years ago), and I cannot say that it was not uninspired. I can honestly say that if we could make the launch vehicle and containment system rock-solid, I can’t find much wrong with the approach. We only have to get it close, and the Sun’s gravity would do the rest. Worst case scenario, a *very* minor solar flare would result. Then again, I am no astro-physicist.

    But I am also not an intellectual rogue either.

    8)

    – Zhirem

  26. Zhirem says:

    Mr. Murhpy, I also wanted to compliment you on your post. Very informative.

    Would you agree that Ethanol and other biofuels derived from food products either corn, or soybeans is problematic because we begin to equate food with fuel?

    It would seem to me that switchgrass would be the best pure-dirt-plant-based solution, but that I have been reading some incredible things about algae solutions, and other microbial solutions to creating fuel from either decaying biomass or other techniques. They seem quite promising.

    Also, I have been reading that the next generation of hybrids will be getting more along the lines of 80mpg to 100mpg and also be flex-fuel vehicles.

    Shouldn’t we be trying as many different technologies and approaches simultaneously, having a greater chance of finding the sweet spot of energy with more approaches being undertaken?

    – Zhirem

  27. Morgan Warstler says:

    You guys get half way there. The easy half. Where does the energy used to make solar panels come from? The energy used to make wind mills?

    It comes from oil. Food harvesting. Food transport. All of it. Every product. Every good. All of it is built on the back of cheap and easy oil.

    Now IF we were to reach peak oil say tommorrow, suddenly the cost of all those things will go up 4x, to start with….

    We will have to choose between making solar panels and eating. Peak oil means roving hoards of starving people. It means DESPERATELY wishing global warming was actually real, so less people freeze to death.

    Why does eveyone want to act like we have to stop using oil because it is bad? Why is using it bad? Cause we have to fight wars for it? Do you think we’d be fighting wars for it, if it wasn’t going to be gone?

    Reverse your thinking. Imagine for a second, we have to fight wars for it. Because it is going to be GONE. Just take a moment and imagine that tomorrow there is LESS oil to buy and more people and industry all clamoring for it.

    How do you so sweetly sit in the sweetest spot, where “we really need to use something else” but it isn’t a “crisis” worth fighting over?

    People die for diamond mines. People die of freezing. People die of starvation. Why do you care enough to drive a Prius, if you don’t shame a celebrity for jet travel? If you will spend so much time worrying about alt.fuels, why do you KNEE JERK oppose a war meant to ensure we can survive long enough to get to alt.fuels?

    I’m dumbfounded.

  28. Rick Turner says:

    Morgaqn, is it physically impossible to use the energy from solar panels or wind turbines to power factories that can manufacture the generating mechanisms? What’s there that I don’t understand about all that? Also, use of alternatives reduces the stress on the now “traditional” sources like oil, coal, and hydro enabling them to be used to supplement, augment, or be used specifically where needed. But you sure don’t need to burn gas, oil, or coal to make electricity to run everyones homes in America, and solar hot water, for instance, is ancient technology available right now. It’s all about BTUs saved here so they can be used there.
    But maybe it’s just not sexy enough…and it sure doesn’t take fighting a glorious three trillion dollar war to get it…

  29. Morgan Warstler says:

    “As of the year 2002, approximately 10 calories of fossil fuels are required to produce every 1 calorie of food eaten in the US” Source:

    http://www.fromthewilderness.com/free/ww3/100303_eating_oil.html

    “Why Our Food is So Dependent on Oil”

    http://www.powerswitch.org.uk/portal/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=563

    “Modern industrial agriculture has been described as a method of using soil to turn petroleum and gas into food. We use natural gas to make fertilizer, and oil to fuel farm machinery and power irrigation pumps, as a feedstock for pesticides and herbicides, in the maintenance of animal operations, in crop storage and drying, and for transportation of farm inputs and outputs. Agriculture accounts for about 17 percent of the U.S. annual energy budget; this makes it the single largest consumer of petroleum products as compared to other industries. By comparison, the U.S. military, in all of its operations, uses only about half that amount. About 350 gallons (1,500 liters) of oil equivalents are required to feed each American each year, and every calorie of food produced requires, on average, ten calories of fossil-fuel inputs. This is a food system profoundly vulnerable, at every level, to fuel shortages and skyrocketing prices. And both are inevitable.”

    http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/Archives2008/HeinbergFiftyMillion.html

  30. Morgan Warstler says:

    Rick, that’s just FOOD. Forget making solar panels. Forget making computer chips.

    You need to SERIOUSLY consider STARVATION of millions here in the US, and add it into the equation when you are figuring out how we move to alt.fuels. Trillions of dollars means nothing, if it allows millions of people to live more comfortably while a massive transformation of economy is underway.

  31. Jeff Deasy says:

    I want to urge support for the legislation just passed by the House of Representatives to provide tax breaks for wind power, solar power, other alternative energy sources, and energy conservation.

    The money is to come from the elimination of tax breaks for the oil and gas industry that would amount to $18 billion over the next 10 years. The 5 largest oil companies earned more than $120 billion in net profits last year.

    The bill is expected to face opposition in the U.S. Senate and face a potential veto by President Bush, making it critical that concerned citizens contact those elected to represent them and make themselves heard.

  32. Rick Turner says:

    So Morgan, would your advice be to buy a small farm (strictly cash), some livestock, and brush up on handling small arms? You’re pointing toward a doomsday scenario here.

  33. Morgan Warstler says:

    Rick, my suggestion is:

    1) If we care enough about alt.fuels to be wanting to drive a Prius, and seriously discussing alt.fuels and seriously discussing whether to leave Iraq… we care enough to be making all profits associated with local food production and conumption tax free. We care enough to end ag-subsidies ($ to factory farms), which will cause an even greater price increases to the cost of food. Between that and the price of corn going through the roof (EVERYTHING we eat is corn), we will soon feel the real pain associated with higher costs of oil.

    2) THEN, when milk is $7 a gallon, and bread is $5 a loaf, hamburger is $10 a lb. and steak is $30 a $30 a lb. (forget restaurants for the middle class and below) we can figure out more honestly how elastic our need for oil is…

    3) THEN, we can figure out how much more pain we want to suffer… this is what I mean by a WAR GARDEN mentality. See this:

    http://images.google.com/images?um=1&hl=en&safe=off&client=opera&rls=en&q=%22war+garden&btnG=Search+Images

    Something tells me:

    1) We’ll stop worrying about obesity.
    2) We’ll focus our attention on living near railroads.
    3) We’ll learn to love blimps.
    4) We’ll change our attitude about nuclear.
    5) We’ll change our attitude about protecting the free flow of oil.

    I’m not asking too much here. End subsidies on food. End the massive centralized food distribution system. Then lets think about the rest.

  34. Rick Turner says:

    I happen to live where it’s very easy to get local food. I shop at a market that does indeed stock a lot of locally grown produce, mostly organic. I’m there on that.

    Nukes? I don’t know. I still haven’t heard much good about how to deal with the waste storage or secondary energy recovery from “spent” fuel rods.

    Free flow of oil? Where is that going to happen? Iraq? Iran? Russia? I don’t think so…

  35. Jon Taplin says:

    Morgan- You are right that industrial agriculture will no longer make sense when gas is $6 per gallon. Certainly in LA, the Farmers Markets are becomming more and more popular.

    I also think we will have to change our attitude about Nuclear. Stewart Brand, the father of the Whole Earth Catalog has come totally over to that position.

  36. JCost says:

    Morgan W:

    “We’ll change our attitude about protecting the free flow of oil.”

    Do you really think the people gaining most from the Iraq war, the corporations gaining most from the Iraq war are concerned about protecting the “free flow of oil” to maintain our democratic indepence and well being? Hardly, they are concerned about protecting and enhancing their profits. Their interests are best served when they control the distribution point for the oil in question instead of others.

    There is no justification for this war and it is beyond misguided to justify it as a vehicle for maintaing the “free flow of oil”.

  37. Pingback: Rebuilding America « Jon Taplin’s Blog

  38. Pingback: Malthus Redux? « Jon Taplin’s Blog

  39. Pingback: Future Train « Jon Taplin’s Blog

  40. spikeanut says:

    I used to feel very positive about next-gen biofuels (e.g. cellulosic ethanol, algae biodiesel). However, over the past year, I’ve become increasingly convinced that the future of transportation lies with electrification rather than improved liquid fuels.

    That’s not to say that natural gas and next-gen biofuels can’t play a part, but the focus going into improving battery technology right now leads me to believe that this is ultimately where things are headed.

  41. Pingback: Provocative « Neil's second decade

  42. I leave a response each time I like a article on a blog or I have something to contribute to the discussion. It is triggered by the passion communicated in the post I looked at. And on this post Alternative Energy & New Federalism | Jonathan Taplin. I was excited enough to drop a comment :-P I do have 2 questions for you if it’s allright. Could it be just me or do some of these responses come across like written by brain dead folks? :-P And, if you are writing on other social sites, I’d like to keep up with you. Would you list all of all your shared pages like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

Leave a Reply