Progress

August 4, 2008

Happy 30th birthday to the Department of Energy. I loved this line:

Prior to 1973, the United States had no coherent energy policy.

Does that mean we do now? Then, we had a number of smaller agencies, often working independently of each other, and our oil demands meant we were hostage to oil imports. Today, we have a federal department with 16,000 employees and a $25 billion budget, and our oil demands make us an even bigger hostage of oil imports. That’s progress for you!

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2 Responses to “Progress”

  1. gadfly Says:

    “1977: President Carter signs the Department of Energy Organization Act, creating the U.S. Department of Energy.

    Prior to 1973, the United States had no coherent energy policy. Instead, a number of smaller agencies, often working independently of one another, handled different aspects of the nation’s energy needs. In the early years of the Atomic Age, for example, the military assumed responsibility for all nuclear-related issues.

    The 1973 energy crisis changed everything. It was triggered when Arab member nations of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries imposed an oil embargo against all western countries supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War. The embargo resulted in an immediate jump in oil prices (to $12 a barrel!), widespread gasoline rationing and the imposition of a 55 mph maximum speed limit. And it exposed America’s energy dependencies and weaknesses.”

    I must say that things have really changed (this must be an Obama commercial) now that the bureaucrats are in charge.
    Unfortunately, not all change is good.

  2. Harl Delos Says:

    I must say that things have really changed (this must be an Obama commercial) now that the bureaucrats are in charge.

    Seems to me, before 1973, our energy policy was pretty much laisse faire, and since 1973, our energy policy has been pretty much laisse faire. The only difference is that some bureaucrats were involved before and other bureaucrats are involved now.

    Maybe you see a difference; I don’t, but I’m willing to be educated.

    I’m not impressed with McCain’s solution of offshore drilling. We are drilling more now than we did a decade ago, yet we’re producing about 10-15% less crude oil. (Most of the new wells are producing natural gas.) They say offshore drilling is safe now, unlike before, but we just had a big oil spill on the Mississippi, and the price of crude oil just dropped a lot because they decided a hurricane isn’t going to hit. That sure doesn’t sound safe.

    Obama not proposing much of a solution, either. He’s willing to compromise on offshore drilling to get a bill out, wihch is promising, but the bill doesn’t seem to do much of anything worthwhile.

    Most petroleum goes to transportation, and little elsewhere; most transportation is fueled by petroleum and little else. We really have two energy problems to deal with: “petroleum/transport”, and “everything else” and nobody seems to understand that.

    Which is why Pickens Plan isn’t going to solve the petroleum problem. It is an “everything else” energy proposal. He says it uses current technology and private capital. In that case, he doesn’t need anything from us. Have at it, Mr. Pickens.

    Cars are only 20% efficient. We can easily double that by using a constant-velocity engine to generate electricity. We get unlimited range that way; much of the inefficiency of the gas engine is a result of speeding up and slowing down. That’ll double the efficiency of the gasoline engine part, but electricity is very inefficient. Senator McCain’s proposal of a prize, in order to promote research on batteries, is fundamentally sound, although I don’t know if the prize is too big or too small, but it doesn’t really matter; he’s pretty much forgotten all about it. Or maybe instead of a constant-velocity engine and batteries, we need a fuel cell system. I don’t know. But our best and cheapest fix is to address efficiency, not to increase drilling.

    And drilling to get more crude is like getting bigger and bigger loans from the loanshark to pay off the old loans. It violates the First Law of Holes: when you find yourself in one, stop digging.

    Instead of drilling for oil, perhaps we need to dig for coal. Our oil reserves are pretty limited, but we’re sitting on centuries worth of coal. In the 1930s and 1940s, Germany was processing coal to produce liquid fuels. There’s no reason we can’t do that right now.

    For non-transportation use, we need more power plants. We need more nukes to provide cheap baseline power supplies and more fossil-fuel plants to provide energy for peaks. The biggest problem with solar and windpower is that it’s neither steady production, nor is it production that can be ramped up to meet needs. Since it’s incredibly expensive to ship electricity (we ship coal to power plants instead of building the power plants at the coal mines and running wires, because shipping electricity is so inefficient), and it’s incredibly inefficient to store electricity, solar and wind fill a need that nobody has: unreliable electricity when nobody needs it.

    So it looks to me like we didn’t have much of an energy policy before 1973, we haven’t had much of an energy policy since 1973, and we’re not likely to have much of an energy policy in the next decade, either, no matter who gets elected.

    There’s an answer in space, but it will take 20-30 years to make it pay off, and it’ll probably be another 20-30 years before we even get started.

    It’s a shame. Cheap, plentiful energy is the difference between plenty to go around for everybody, and consequently peace, or people freezing to death in the dark, all around the globe, and consequently a lot of warfare.


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