By Robert P. Smith, Ph.D., P.E.
This paper is about energy: how much there is, what types there are, how much is being used, who controls it, and what options are available to Americans. The 2008 oil price spike sparked debate on the entire spectrum of energy alternatives. We are approaching the end of an era, and profound changes lay ahead of us. This paper summarizes facts about energy that can give us a better understanding of what we can expect in current and future energy options and what we should be doing to effect good energy practices and government policy.
• Despite the recent fall in oil prices, the era of cheap oil is over. Nevertheless, the U.S. has extensive reserves of coal, shale oil, and nuclear fuel, and these can provide reasonably priced electricity and liquid fuels for at least the next 200 years; nuclear power even longer. Natural gas reserves are once again rising because of new technologies in extraction.
• The U.S. has abundant supplies of non-conventional oil. Shale oil and coal-to liquids technology can produce gasoline and diesel fuel in the $3 per gallon range for many decades, with at least a 200-year supply.
• Conservation and utilizing energy efficiencies are always good practices. The U.S. is already becoming more energy efficient every year – and without mandated restrictions.
• The U.S. must have a reliable and affordable energy supply as a matter of national security. Economic growth will require adequate and economical sources of energy. Though well-intentioned, many environmentalists and certain congressional members are blocking practical energy alternatives simply because they are not perceived as “renewable,” without fully understanding the harmful consequences of this obstruction.
• The theory of man-made global warming is not based upon thoroughly vetted science. Data over the past decade indicates that no warming has occurred since 1998, and 2007 and 2008 are two of the coolest years in the past fifty. Historical and sunspot data indicate temperatures will decline over the next twenty years.
Faced with mounting opposition from thousands of scientists citing fact-based research, global warming advocates are now adopting the term “climate change.” Public policy formulated with global warming as its premise could be extremely counter-productive to economic growth.
• A new generation of more fuel-efficient vehicles will be on the market in 2010 and thereafter. Longer term, plug-in electric hybrids built from composite materials that can routinely achieve over 60 mpg will be safer and better alternatives for the future.
• Wind energy can provide a portion of electrical power, but its potential is limited. Wind is unreliable: it only generates electricity when and where the wind is blowing. Wind energy requires backup, such as coal, nuclear or gas turnbine, to make it reliable.
• Solar energy will have a place long term, but faces major challenges. Development of a cheap and efficient photovoltaic cell is needed, although Thin Film Photovoltaic technology shows promise. Large-scale solar power is unreliable – nights and cloudy days yield no power – but Solar Tower Power technology may be viable in the long term. The intermittent nature of both solar and wind power currently limits their reliability and hence their cost effectiveness.
• The U.S. Congress is blocking energy initiatives that could help the U.S. in cost and supply. These include:
o Domestic oil exploration offshore, in Alaska, and on federal lands;
o Coal-to-liquid fuels for secure military and domestic supply;
o Permitting for shale oil development and recovery in western states;
o Fast track permitting for nuclear plants.
• Carbon taxes and caps, combined with mandated requirements for “alternative energy” sources will drive up the cost of fuel and electricity. This will increase the cost of food, fuel, and utility bills. These higher costs will cause disproportionate hardship on those who can least afford it: middle class and lower income citizens.
Paper Format and Sources
The writing style of this paper is intended to make it as readable to the ordinary person as possible. The format often poses a question followed by an answer. This is not an academic paper. There are no footnotes or citations. The sources were authoritative books and technical papers on related subjects (listed at the end of paper); articles and publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, the Rocky Mountain Institute, the Dallas Morning News and The Economist; and energy reports, technical papers, data sources obtained (and cross-checked) through the Internet from sites such as the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy, and the International Energy Agency. Read full paper at http://icecap.us/images/uploads/Energy_Final_5-1-09.pdf.