On Monday afternoon, President Obama stood before the American people and suggested that climate change and the challenges of energy needs would be at the very top of his agenda. However, just like with any other policy, the devil is in the details. We must have a better understanding of just what the president has in mind.
In a matter of weeks, we will begin to get an idea of how the federal government will respond to this pressing issue, if it chooses to respond at all. The response must be sensible, including a broad understanding of why we need controllable sources of energy, evaluating the responsible pricing for the proposed fuels and their waste, and looking to the private sector for the kinds of innovation that has been fostered there.
In looking at these questions, I strongly rely on the works of two great Americans: Amory Lovins and Burton Richter. Some of my Republican friends will jump at these two thinkers and distinguished scientists as liberal activists, but I strongly suggest that the ideas these gentlemen push are a good foundation to environmentally sound and economically viable policy. In thinking about this issue and how to go forward, I would suggest the following questions and answers for your consideration:
1. Why do we need fossil fuels in 2013 and going forward?
Fossil fuels have provided humanity with a stable supply of energy needed for manufacturing, transportation, and heat. An increasing number of products in the petrochemical industry continue to rely on the availability of raw fossil fuels as a base starting product. In the field of electrification, fossil fuels and nuclear offer us the ability to generate electricity when we need it.
Nuclear power offers the possibility of emissions free electricity and new companies, such as TerraPower, are offering the possibility of using low enrichment grade uranium for additional energy generation. However, nuclear power plants are expensive, financially and politically, to build, forcing us to rely on the conventional fossil fuels.
2. Can renewable energy sources replace all fossil fuel sources in electrical generation?
In looking at this question, we recognize the fundamental problem with renewable source of energy: There is little to no control on when the current can be made available. The lack of an ability to provide a steady supply of electricity “on-demand” is the biggest short coming of this source.
However, a number of groups, including my own, are committed to developing “batteries” to guarantee that a steady flow can be provided. So, the answer is eventually. Finding a storage solution to this problem will change the economic landscape of the developed world as it enables local and reliable energy generation. Currently, such a change is not possible for a variety of reasons, the primary being the energy efficiency of currently available energy storing devices.
3. Where can the largest gains that benefit both industry and the environment be made?
In looking at the proposed installation of millions of photovoltaic cells in California, Dr. Richter concluded that the cost of doing so and the lack of predictable delivery of energy to the necessary customers precluded this being a solution for one of the states where doing so would make sense.
Instead, the recommendation is to retrofit all of the coal plants into natural gas burning plants. Natural gas burns cleaner than coal, produces a lower rate of emission than coal, and is an economically viable source of energy.
The bottom line, however, goes to T. Boone Pickens: We need an energy bill. A bill that takes into consideration all sources of energy, invests in technology, and provides a pathway from one mode of production to meet our demands to another. While private industry and enterprise have provided some guidance, we have to increase the path of progress and development through public investment. This bill must incorporate fracking for oil and gas, development of conventional nuclear facilities, investment into low grade uranium nuclear facilities, and continued investment in renewables.
Failure is not an option. Civilizations that fail to meet the changes of the environment and the times are doomed to fail, and that would be un-American.