Wednesday, March 12, 2008

We need a National Energy Policy

Despit the pretensions of the White House, and The US Department of Energy, the United States has no energy policy. Even that pillar of the Bush Administration, the National Review Online says so.

In this respect the United States is not much different from other advanced economies. The European Union clims to have an energy policy, but as the right-wing British blog EU Referendum has recently sneered, it is a fantasy policy.

We lack a rational policy mechanism because special interests compete for control of national policy. Oil companies like EXXON and coal companies have invested millions of dollars in creating disinformation campaigns about global warming. Environmentalists engage in disinformation campaigns in favor of efficiency, and "renewable" and against the use of nuclear power. Before we have can have a national energy policy, we have to acknowledge what efficiency, wind and the sun cannot do. We will need to shift reality from myth in the case of nuclear power.

I do not expect to reach that point for several years. The facts are these. Efficiency is no solution because of a problem called Jevon's paradox. William Stanley Jevon a 19th century British economist figured out that as mechanical inventions made the use of coal more efficient, demand for coal went up rather than down. Thus energy efficiency increases demand rather than reduces it. Basically the call to solve our energy problems through energy efficiency is a call to do something that will increase energy demand, rather than reduce it.

Wind and solar power are simply too expensive to provide us with the electricity we need, and they are intermittent. We need a stable source electricity, that does not stop working at night or on hot summer days. But wind and solar generation attract a lot of sentimental attention. It is a highly romantic notion that all the energy we need can be cheaply extracted from the sun and the wind. It is going to take people and politicians a while to realize what a few of us already know. The spread sheets don't work. If you figure the true cost of generating the electricity we need from the sun and the wind, the costs will be too expensive, and we just are not going to get the electricity we need.

Within a few months the United States Geological Service will announce that the United States has been given a gift by God. There is more energy in the ground at Lemhi Pass in Idaho, than there is left in all of the coal mines of the country. But we are not ready for that desperately needed gift. We don;t know how to use it, and most people, including decision makers will not even realize what a gift we have been given.

It is going to take a while for people to figure out that preferred solutions are not going to work. We need an energy policy that will help us transform the thorium found at Lemhi Pass into a form of energy we can all use. A good national energy policy should give us the tools we need, and will point us in a realistic direction.

1 comment:

Sovietologist said...

Curiously, if there's one country out there that has a real energy policy it's Russia. Of course, it's rather different that anything we would want. Right now, the policy consists largely of exporting energy resources to earn revenue for the government, as most of the energy sector in Russia is now state-owned. The Russians understand, however, that their energy wealth will ultimately be exhausted. They're banking against that with their ambitious plans to develop the nuclear sector. Right now that basically means more VVERs, but they're also putting money into LMFBRs and working to complete the BN-800. I honestly can't say that I think the latter is the best course of action, but it's a hell of a lot more sensible than fantasies of "80% solar by 2050!" that get taken way too seriously here.


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