Now that the massive oil spill from a deep water oil well in the Gulf of Mexico seems to be contained we can return to the discussion of an intelligent energy policy for the USA. I would once more urge the administration to drop the “energy independence” cliche and return to a policy aimed at developing cleaner energy resources. The problem is to meet accelerating demand for energy in a way that will not cause serious damage to the environment. It is not making sure America meets its energy needs entirely from domestic resources.
Perhaps it is necessary to once more provide a basic understanding of our energy resources and uses. I ask, what is our primary source of energy? To all of you who reply oil, coal, gas, wood, nuclear, wind, biomass and so on I say, “your are wrong.” Our primary source of energy is solar energy.
What’s that you say, we are far behind other countries in developing solar energy. But you are talking about using solar energy to produce electricity or to heat water. One has to remember that the earth is made habitable by solar energy. The sun does the major work of heating the planet. Solar energy also provides us with fresh water. The sun heats the oceans to produce clouds that bring the rain. No one has ever attempted to calculate the amount of energy required to keep the planet habitable or to bring rain to the lands. But clearly it is vastly greater than all other energy we use.
The problem with solar energy is that we do not have it in full force when the sun don’t shine. Yes, the earth stores a certain amount, but essentially we don’t have the solar energy we need at all times. Even more relevent solar energy does not lend itself to meeting many of our needs. Transportation comes immediately to mind. So we need other energy to supplement solar energy.
Enter fossil fuels that can be carried in our various modes of transportation, e.g. autos, planes, ships. Beside portability we need reasonably priced energy. So prices of various energy becomes important. And fossil fuels are very price competitive.
One application that uses fossil fuels that does not require portability is electric power generation. And here we use hydro-power, solar power, wind power, tidal power, nuclear power as well as fossil fuel power. I would argue that the first step in a new energ policy for the USA would be to reduce the use of fossil fuels for electric power generation. The Obama administration has made a major move here by reinvigorating our nuclear power industry. We also see funds going into wind power for electicity generation. Whatever we use, the objective should be to eliminate fossil fuels from electric power generation as soon as possible with two decades hence not being a too imaginative target date.
We should also work to eliminate using fossile fuels to heat our homes and buildings. Again, these are stationary requirements for energy so portability is not an issue. The issue here is simply price competitiveness. So far the alternatives have proven to be too expensive, mainly because they require fossil fuel back-up systems.
Consider one example. Many homes are now fitted with elaborate solar panels to produce hot water for use in the home. Of course you need a back-up hot water generator to serve when the sun don’t shine. And as far as I have been able to detect there is none designed to provide the heat required to maintain a suitable environment in the home.
In contrast, there are systems to cool homes that are based on using the excessive heat that requires cooling the home. In this case, the stronger the sun shines, the better the machine works, since it uses solar power to cool a refrigerent, rather than warm air or water to heat the home.
I submit it is this type of counterintuitive thinking that is required to bring us less polluting energy.