Among this evening’s emails was an infographic from the White House explaining the new Energy Security Trust and asking readers to share the link. OK Mr. President, I’ll share your infographic but with the comment that the plan as outlined is bullshit. (Excuse the language but the infographic explicitly mentions biofuels.) Here’s the deal:
1) The plan is to shift off oil but the alternative is a different fossil fuel? Natural gas is a temporary reprieve from oil and still contributes to global warming.
2) Biofuels are heavily dependent on fossil hydrocarbons for manufacture of fertilizer, transportation of the fertilizer and transportation of the fuels.
3) Batteries and fuel cells are storage technologies, not energy generation. Where does the energy come from to fill those batteries? Fossil fuels, according to this plan.
The point about batteries is especially salient because no mention is made about energy storage for household and industrial use. The same batteries from an electric vehicle could just as easily charge during off-peak hours and then power the home during peak periods. If we applied that technology in the home as well as in cars, we could clip the power demand peaks which would give us a repreive from building new power plants.
Solar was not mentioned by name in the infographic at all. The amount of usable incident energy from the sun dwarfs our needs now and into the future. In the words of Randy Udall, “Humanity has a method of converting sand into a semiconductor material that can take in sunlight, convert it’s energy to electricity, our highest form of useful energy, and do it without motion, pollution or making a sound. We will never run out of it. It’s efficiency will only go up. It’s cost will only go down. Some people would ask, in terms of our energy future, why are we working on anything else?”
Why, indeed. One answer might be that when energy is extracted from fossil fuels, whoever controls the supply and distribution of those fuels has significant geopolitical power. The ability to extract energy from incident sunlight eliminates that leverage. Shifting America off of oil and onto another fossil fuel isn’t about saving the planet, it’s about flexing geopolitical American muscle.
The second-tier version of this power play is that central electricity generation creates large corporations capable of raising capital to build the required infrastructure. It also creates a different kind of power: wealth and the ability to influence legislation and resource allocations in order to perpetuate the corporation at all costs. Point-source generation such as solar on my roof doesn’t generate an ongoing income stream or political power for the utility company so of course they are going to fight incentives in that direction. That doesn’t make their model right.
So if you want me to buy into your energy security plan, you need to scrub the carbon out of the smoke you are blowing up our collective ass and admit its about power and not energy. Then tell me why I should prioritize that over solar energy research, electricity storage technology and global warming. Otherwise, start providing strong incentives for solar research and residential energy storage technology. Now, please.