Most of the current thinking about post carbon energy does not make allowances for contingencies. Future circumstances are of course unpredictable. While one should, of course hope for the best, a prudent planner should make sure that his or has plan has ample contingency allowances for Worst-Case Scenarios. My argument has been that the Aim High Plan can and should be tailored to produce the lowest possible ample power at the lowest possible cost. We can, of course hope that the generation long period between 2020 and 2050 will be one of unprecedented prosperity for both the world's and the American economy, but this should not be our assumption. In deed our assumption should be that of desperate economic circumstances. If a plan that will yield desired results under the worst possible circumstances, then it will work under better circumstances as well.
The Worst-Case Scenario for the United States would be national bankruptcy, the collapse of the dollar as a medium of exchange for international trade. Under such circumstances it will be discovered tat the United States lacks the capacity to produce the goods it uses and cannot pay for them in the international trade system. Under such circumstances, the standard of living in the United States would drop significantly, and prices of manufactured goods would rise greatly. Such circumstances, while perhaps extreme and unlikely are clearly not impossible. A good plan thus would be one that could work under such highly adverse circumstances.
The circumstances I have described would require the greatest possible economies in creating a post carbon energy system. At the same time the deployment of such an energy system would be part of an economic recovery plan and the plan should provide for ample amounts of low cost electricity in an amount that would fulfill the energy needs of a prosperous economy. The Worst-Case Scenario should take into account the desirability of limiting energy input into the deployment scheme.
I believe that the following factors are of major importance in any new energy deployment scheme:
1. Materials input required to fulfill goals.
2. Labor input required to fulfill plan goals.
3. Energy input required to fulfill plan goals.
4. Plan surface area footprint.
5. Energy Return on Energy Invested.
6. Ongoing resource use under plan to be consistent sound environmental principles.
7. Plan technology consistent with principles of Green Engineering.
8. Plan comprehensiveness.
9. Plan simplicity.
10. Mid range (over 1000 years) sustainability.
11. Plan flexibility.
12. The distribution and size of energy generation facilities under the plan.
13. Energy reliability.
14, Missing peaces.
15. Deployment possible under the worst case scenario.
I have generated a long list. No doubt conceptual reordering is possible. I am simply thinking about what we have to know before we can say if an energy plan is a good plan
My mid term sustainability criteria might raise some eyebrows, but a limited sustainability horizon has some advantages in the present circumstances. First the most sustainable option available today might not be the best option in terms of other criteria. Long term sustainability might a goal for a society in less pressing circumstances. A second justification might argue that a scheme might believed to offer long term sustainability, but the research required to establish this might be very expensive, and would delay the plans deployment. In such a case, it might be wise to go with a promising technology that offers firm evidence for a mid term sustainability and reason to hope for longer term sustainability rather than to adopt a plan which offers long term sustainability coupled with several disadvantages.
Other factors, for example the distribution and size of generation units might also raise eyebrows, but quite apart from any connection to Amory Lovins, important issues are attached to it.
In later posts I intend to at least clarify the listed factors, and to point the way toward criterion for their application to the evaluation of future energy plans.
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