This came about from a discussion my wife and I had this morning. Let’s face it; sooner or later, we are going to run out of crude oil. Then we will really be up the creek and we won’t have a paddle. Of course, the problem for us is that this date in the future is several years away and after we are no longer on this earth. So, it really isn’t our problem, is it? The problem for the coming generations is that they will have to deal with the fact that all the previous generations before them never worried about whether there would be enough oil.
But the problem is our problem and we had better do something about it if we even want there to be future generations. And the answer to the present energy crisis is not more drilling! Even if we were to embark on a massive drilling program wherever there is available crude oil to be obtained, the effects of that new supply will not be felt for several years.
The answer lies in the development of alternative energy sources, be they natural or man-made. Solar, geothermal and wind power are what I call natural sources; nuclear fission and fusion are what I term man-made. Each has their own benefits; each has their own disadvantages. And what works in one area may not necessarily work in another, especially in terms of the various natural sources.
I will admit that I am in favor of fusion as the energy resource for the future. Fusion is, as many will hopefully recall from high school or introductory college science courses, the process by which stars shine. It is the fusion of hydrogen nuclei into helium nuclei. Right now, the only way that we could have a fusion reactor on earth is to duplicate the conditions of extremely high pressures and extremely high temperatures found in stars.
There are people attempting to do just that right now and each day the ability to develop a self-sustaining fusion reactor gets closer. But it is not there yet. There is also the possibility of what is called “cold fusion.” This process received a certain degree of notoriety in the 1980’s when Pons and Fleischman announced that they had achieved the fusion of hydrogen atoms into helium atoms at room temperature. Unfortunately, in their rush to achieve fabulous riches (my characterization), they failed to check their results and their work was ridiculed. The whole concept is now viewed with some disdain because of this. What is interesting to note is that the concept itself was first proposed, I believe, by the Nobel laureate Hans Bethe in the 1930’s.
But, no matter which form of fusion you wish to consider, development of the process as a viable energy resource will take time and money. And those are factors that the American people are never willing to consider when it comes to research. They will pay for something if they benefit from it now but they are unwilling to pay for the research that will only benefit others later. We probably would never have gone to the moon in the 1960’s if the journey had been phrased as purely exploration and research.
That brings up the other “man-made” source of energy, nuclear fission. The problems with nuclear fission are not necessarily that people will steal the nuclear fuel and create weapons of mass destruction or crash some airplane into a nuclear reactor and somehow create a nuclear explosion; the problems come from how to do dispose of the waste generated. And right now, just as the energy laws of this country favor exploration for oil and the development of oil outside the boundaries of this country, the laws concerning nuclear fission require that utilities pay for the cost of storage and disposal up-front, instead of spreading the cost out over the life of the process. Of course, in this case, the life of the process approaches billions of years and no one wants a nuclear waste dump in their backyard.
Sooner or later, we, the present generation, are going to have to make some decisions about resolving the energy crisis. The solutions that many offer today only postpone the inevitable. We have to realize that any viable solution will take time and it will cost us money. But it is money well spent if we are to insure the future for the coming generations, presuming that they will be further generations.
It is a moral imperative that we not only take care of the environment in which we live but also insure that our progeny have a world to live in and the energy to live in that world.
Additional notes –
There are a number of articles available, especially in the solar energy industry, if you are interested; I received the following information from The Vote Solar Initiative:
Utility Involvement in Distributed Generation Markets
First, there’s a new phenomenon afoot–across the US, utilities are getting involved in distributed generation solar markets like never before. Boon or threat? We just published an article in Renewable Energy World with our friend Kevin Fox (of Keyes and Fox, LLC) with an answer, and our thoughts about what it all means for the solar industry. The short version: we believe this new development provides advocates with a tremendous new opportunity to open up solar markets for all. In California, we are working towards a standard-offer wholesale tariff under the RPS. In North Carolina, we are intervening to establish a standard-offer REC program. As utilities are now able to take the federal investment tax credit, we expect this trend to accelerate and we hope that the path we’ve laid out provides a helpful model for our friends and allies.
Market Mechanisms, Policy Choices
Which brings us to our second release. With the long-term extension of the 30% investment tax credit and the explosion of solar manufacturing capacity worldwide, we’re entering a new era of solar possibilities. After years of living in a seller’s market, we are finally going to see lower module prices–and that means new opportunities to develop state solar programs.
As we discuss in our Renewable Energy World paper, solar can participate in both wholesale and retail markets. To help inform policy choices, we’re releasing a tool that will help analyze the incentives necessary to deliver the same customer economics under three different policy scenarios: upfront incentives, performance-based incentives, and a feed-in tariff. Check out the BETA version here and let us know what you think.
Municipal Tax Assessment Financing
Finally, the implosion of credit markets could mean severe problems for people looking to finance a solar purchase. In a timely Wall Street Journal article, Vote Solar is quoted discussing how financial innovation is as important as technological innovation. One potential remedy has been pioneered by the city of Berkeley, with their innovative property tax assessment financing program. We’ve just posted a couple papers discussing how the model works, and what states can do to enable municipalities to follow their lead. Check them out here.
If you are interested in what The Vote Solar Initiative is doing, they can be reached at
The Vote Solar Initiative
300 Brannan Street, Suite 609
San Francisco, CA 94107
I would be interested in knowing what other information is available.
Cross-posted to RedBlueChristian