This Week’s Mtg: Efficiency and Conservation Or “Drill, Baby Drill?”

This was originally Norm’s idea, although I added the Drill Baby angle to make it more topical.  While Drill Baby has faded due to the totally inconvenient massive BP spill, it’s still a timely topic.  Yeah, the November election is sure to kill any further federal action on energy policy and climate change.  But, our energy problems will still be there (just worse) when we return to addressing them sometime in the future.

This issue also is very important for California voters in November, because of Proposition 23.  Prop. 23 would reverse CA’s commitment to install a carbon cap and trade program and support green energy alternatives.  State action is how policy evolves in the U.S when the feds are paralyzed.

For Thursday, maybe I should open with a short review of what our energy problems actually are.  It’s not just global warming.  If I outline the big problems we need to do something about, then the relative roles for efficiency/conservation vs. finding new fossil fuel supplies may be easier for us to discuss.

I’m no expert, but it appears to me that we have three basic energy needs, all of which will be harder to solve the longer we wait.  We need to:

  1. Begin a multi-decade switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to avoid climate catastrophe and because we’re going to run out of them anyway;
  2. Keep energy prices and supplies as stable as possible during the multi-decade conversion, so as to minimize economic disruption;
  3. Make America a leader in the new green technologies so we can capture the jobs and wealth of this transition for ourselves, not other countries. 

Easy, huh?  Here are a few links for background on each topics  (Red ones probably most useful):

Climate Change and Coming Fossil Fuel Energy Shortages


Green Jobs and Technology

Our environmentalist, Anne Tolch, won’t be able to attend.

UPDATE:  In case anyone cares to know the details, Obama has done a lot to kick sdtart this stuff, most of it in the stimulus.  Details (all stimulus spending, in bullet points, is here):

  • ENERGY:  About $50 billion for energy programs, focused chiefly on efficiency and renewable energy, including $5 billion to weatherize modest-income homes; $6.4 billion to clean up nuclear weapons production sites; $11 billion toward a so-called “smart electricity grid” to reduce waste; $6 billion to subsidize loans for renewable energy projects; $6.3 billion in state energy efficiency and clean energy grants; and $4.5 billion make federal buildings more energy efficient; $2 billion in grants for advanced batteries for electric vehicles.
  • RENEWABLE ENERGY INCENTIVES:  About 20 billion in tax incentives for renewable energy and energy efficiency over 10 years, including extending tax credits for energy produced from wind, geothermal, hydropower and landfill gas; grants to build renewable energy facilities; tax credits for purchases of energy-efficient furnaces, windows and doors, or insulation; tax credit for families that purchase plug-in hybrid vehicles.

2 responses

  1. Since I will be in Atlanta when this takes place:

    1. There’s still lots of oil to be found, particularly in formations previously thought incapable of supporting exploitable oil reservoirs (esp. shales- see the massive Bakken Formation in North Dakota and newly tapped ones in Wyoming, Colorado, and Montana). Since the price of oil has risen and technology has improved, these deposits are becoming profitable to exploit and to search for in the future, though they require lots of water for the fracking apart of the shale to get to the oil. Many more deposits of oil exist in the deep ocean or in parts of the world that haven’t been sufficiently explored yet- look at the recent discoveries in Uganda and (apparently) Israel. In short, the transition period is going to have plenty of oil to work with for quite some time even if we have hit “peak” oil.

    2. One thought based on my cross-country drive of the past few days- wind power isn’t a viable solution. Wind farms are really ugly and make a huge visual scar on the landscape. They also make a weird, annoying sound that’s gotten many locals angry and started NIMBY sentiments in many supposedly wind-friendly areas. Plus, the current vertical towers are apparently way less efficient than horizontal versions, but thanks to lots of politiking the subsidies and research are being put into the vertical ones.

    Solar power, on the other hand, could be a great solution if there could be a way developed to make it more efficient and less water-intensive… but that’s a ways in the future. Geothermal works well in limited cases. Both are probably nowhere near ready to take over the heavy load of producing energy. The only viable long-term solution then is nuclear (particularly the new highly efficient sodium-based coolants and the fast-breeder reactors which eliminate much of the need for new uranium), but good luck getting that past the fearmongerers who think we’ll end up with 3-eyed fish in the water everywhere.

    3. In the end, we’ll muddle through with lots of fits and false solutions with oil (and maybe natural gas eventually) remaining the centerpiece of our energy supplies for the next 50 years but enough technology developed to solve our energy problems for the long term. Efficiency is probably the key and since it’s a win-win for all sides (cheaper in long run for conservatives, eco-friendly for enviros) I expect it’ll be the main engine of progress in this area.

    4. Cap and trade is dead. For a long time at least. It’s too complicated to explain and contains so many loopholes for various favored parties there’s something in it for everyone to dislike. Prop 23 will probably pass because Jobs > Carbon in the hierarchy of things people care about and the promised “green revolution” hasn’t delivered enough (at least in the public perception).

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment. You’re probably right about the politics. I haven’t seen polling on 23, however, and since the voters’ default position on propositions seems to be No these days, and people are extra surly right now, I’m not sure what will happen.

      All of the alternatives you mention, of course, depend on sharply upgraded transmission lines and systems that can accomodate intermittant power, and making more efficient cars market-friendly.

      My main point on TH is going to be that the transition is going to be way more difficult than a lot of liberals think, and while drill baby drill is stupid as a policy matter, we need to take very seriously Americans’ aversion to any major disruptions to their lives.

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