Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Energy

With oil prices hitting 60$ a barrel, I thought it might be an appropriate time to lay out some practical points on energy.

To begin with, obtaining a reliable source of energy is one of the biggest, if not the the biggest, challenges to America's economic and political security. It is because:
  • Our largest source, oil, is not only located in other countries, but in very unstable countries.
  • The natural economic successor of oil, natural gas, is located is the same places.
  • Whereas new sources of oil have shrivelled up, world demand continues to expand.
  • There will be natural conflicts of interest when demand for oil surpasses supply, which could become full fledged wars if not prepared for.
  • Importing all this energy is bad for the trade balance.
  • Our largest (and expanding) source of electrical power, coal, is extremely bad for the environment, although this can be remedied.
  • Fossil fuels, especially oil, have far more valuable uses, in plastics tar, fertilizer, and other products, whose alternatives are more scarce than those for energy.
  • All fossil fuels are limited in supply and as we're forced to use more crude fuels, like tar oil, the damage to the environment increases exponentially, threatening not only America's, but the worlds welfare.
Thus stand the main columns of the problem, now some solutions:
  • Enact policies that bring about stability in oil producing regions.
  • Heavily tax oil to curb its growth and reverse the consumption trend.
  • Encourage heavy investments in alternatives.
  • Tax pollution.
  • Encourage more sustainable development patterns (less highways, more trains).
  • Stop the construction of convential coal plants through regulations aimed at bringing in a new generation of nuclear, clean coal, and various other alternatives.
Pretty straightforward. Unfortunately, politicians are enacting policies that are at best half-way solutions and at worst exacerbate the problem. The United States, at current rates of production, will be out of oil in fifteen years. The world has, on the rosy side, at most fifty years before oil can no longer be our primary fuel, and sixty before natural gas is out as well. We need solutions and we need them fast. Things will not be pretty if the nation, and the world, waits until the crisis strikes to begin offering solutions. This is the broad overview, it will be followed up with many supplementary details.

4 comments:

Benton C. Glaze said...

I saw a particularly opportune article on Wired today, about the use of Throrium instead of Uranium in nuclear power plants, as it reduces the waste and eliminates the possibility of weapon-grade material that can be gathered from spent fuel, two popular anti-nuker's points. Of course, today's nuclear plants are geared towards uranium, and not thorium, but with enough economic and political pressures, a switch is possible, if not probable.

Link - http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,68045,00.html

Benton C. Glaze said...

Oh, by the way, Nuclear power seems more and more to be our only sane option, for ecologically, and economically.

Jason Coleman said...

There's only one solution that can meet the world's current and future energy needs. Space based solar energy. The delivery is being worked out by NASA right now at Huntsville, and the cost to deploy enough to supply North America with all her needs for the next 50 to 75 years would be less than the cost of 10 nuclear power plants (which could only supply about 15% of U.S. energy needs for a decade).

The Sun is the source for ALL energy in the solar system. Oil was made by the sun (don't believe me, work it back). Nuclear energy is derived from atoms that were forged in the Sun's crucible, it's the engine powering the entire solar system.

Talk about nuclear power, wind power, hydro is all just posturing because people are afraid they'll be branded a kook by suggesting space-based solar, but in truth, it's the only long term solution that is both easy to get at and scalable for the needs of humanity.

But boy, don't people have fun bashing on the energy companies, extolling the horrors of those things that got us to the point where we could discuss it. We've got plenty of oil to go around if we just move forward. All this mumbo jumbo about renewable energy on earth, hydro, and nuclear is slowing us down to a long term solution.

William said...

I agree thoroughly. Out of all the technologies I have looked at, space based solar seems to have the most potential by far, not to say there aren't other hurdles, such that in 50-75 years the crisis will be upon us and we have to perfect the technology for storing raw electricity in cars (hydrogen). Thus we still need a bridge, but yes, that's most probably what's going to be on the other side (if we get some good leadership...).