Issues 2004 – Energy

If you take all the Issues 2004 posts that I’ve done, none of them matter as much to me as this one.

I believe that our dependence on foriegn oil is the biggest threat to our economy, security, and way of life. And we need to do something about it.

Jeff’s post was OK, but the comments had some gems. I’d like to repost parts of some of them here:

From Karl

Known alternative forms of energy are not displacing oil because they are not competitive.

In some cases, they are not competitive for technical reasons. For example, hydrogen is not an alternative source of energy as much as it is an alternate way of storing energy, and the energy consumed in the process of storing it (generally from fossil fuels) is not economical.

Other alternate sources are not competitive because they simply do not carry the same bang for the buck as fossil fuels. Perhaps some method will be discovered to make those sources (e.g., biodiesel) more competitive, but there is no reason to believe that government funding of such research will produce that method, as opposed to private funding by businesses which would stand to profit greatly by such a discovery.

Other sources are feasible technically, but not politically or legally. Nuclear power is such a case in the U.S., as environmental activists and their lawyers have esssentially shut down new construction. I agree with Jeff that we should take steps to improve the nuke picture here, but I wonder which candidate in the current contest is more likely to work in that direction.

From Tim Worstall:

Just about every person on the planet who can usefully contribute to the development of alternative energy sources is already doing so. There are hundreds of companies and thousands of research groups beavering away. Whatever it is that we needed to do to start the ball rolling, we’ve already done it. Within two decades (and I hope to be around to crow about this prediction) we’ll have solar power competetive with fossil fuel. At that point the greater energy efficiency of fuel cells will make the hydrogen cycle for cars work.
Don’t get excited about it, don’t start any “Manhattan Projects”, above all don’t waste hundreds of billions of dollars trying to change the world before the appropriate technologies are ready. They’re being worked on and there is little one can do to make the engineering cycle move faster.
I won’t bore you with masses of detail (or rather, might save it for a Techcentralstation piece) but I have seen at least 4 major breakthroughs in the last 18 months on the long road to getting free of our dependence upon fossil fuels. Ranging from making solid oxide fuel cells massively cheaper, to solar cells at 35-40% efficiency (at reasonable prices), a catalyst to use sunlight to manufacture hydrogen from water to a safe method of storing nuclear waste for 100,00 years.

From Keith:

Oil is not yet scarce in the world and yet because of geo-political reality, it is nearing $50/bbl. What do we see at the same time? Hybrid cars are the new big thing. They will only get more popular and oil will only get more expensive.

Big Oil is already figuring this out too. Most notably, BP is spamming the TV world with their ads about how BP stands for “Beyond Petroleum.” Between Big Oil and Big Car, they are figuring out their own migration path to the new world. I am sure there will be major fallout along the way, but that migration is happening already.

These posts give me hope that the dramatic rise in oil prices in the past year is not a blip like we had in the 70′s but a permanent rise which will lead to, and in some ways finance, the next wave of energy solutions.

I wish I knew enough about this topic to be able to profit from the coming changes. I believe that investment capital is needed to move alternative energy from the labratory into the marketplace. Finding the sources of this investment capital and the people talented enough to allocate it well among all the potential opportunities is going to be a challenge.

I’ll end with a link to one of my favorite blogs, the Alternative Energy Blog. There’s great stuff on this site every day.