Alternative Energy

Wind is a Sleeping Colossus

windmills1[1]Since publishing my post on electrifying the Interstate Highway System I’ve been asked where the power to pull off such a sweeping change would come from.  One friend suggested that if the needed power came from coal fired power, there would be little point to such a move.  But I was convinced renewable sources can deliver the energy needed to electrify the interstate highways, and looked for evidence to support that view.  What I found was an environmental blog published by the New York Times in July 2009.  The piece, written by John Lorinc, was provocatively named Study Suggests Wind Power Potential Is Much Higher Than Current Estimates.

Lorinc’s blog refers to a remarkable study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  This study, Global Potential For Wind-Generated Electricity, was produced by Xi Lu, Michael B. McElroy, and Juha Kiviluoma at the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Harvard University.  These researchers suggested that the potential wind energy in the lower 48 states is equivalent to 16 times the total electrical demand of the United States!!  By itself such a staggering amount of power would clearly be more than enough to realize the dream of electrifying the interstate highways.

But our sources of renewable energy don’t stop there.  Most of the wind energy in the lower 48 states comes from a huge area in the middle of the country stretching from North Dakota to Texas.  But there is an enormous expanse of land further west in states like California, Arizona, and New Mexico where the sun beats down with merciless regularity.  This area could contribute a huge amount of renewable energy in the form of large solar thermal installations designed to produce electricity by concentrating the sun’s rays.

In Canada, the province of Quebec also has enormous wind energy potential, one that may be even greater than the winds of the American Midwest.  Much of the electricity used in New England and New York already comes from hydroelectric sources in Quebec.  It would be perfectly logical to supply much of the electricity needed to power electric roads on our eastern seaboard from wind power sources based in Quebec.  Canada doesn’t need to disturb its toxic tar sands to become an energy superpower!

In recent years the United States has been called The Saudi Arabia of Wind Power.  When we add the huge solar potential of the American Southwest, and the vast untapped wind energy of Quebec we find three Saudi Arabia’s worth of renewable energy in our corner of the world.  Don’t let the naysayers tell you otherwise — there is more than enough renewable energy available to power the electric road of the future.  Much more!

The Most Important Task of Our Time

THE MOST IMPORTANT TASK OF OUR TIME is to electrify the Interstate Highway system.

The Interstate Highway system is a peerless resource.  It has been called the greatest public works project in history.  Let’s capitalize on this unique American treasure by creating an INTERSTATE 2.0 designed to support electric cars.  We want a network electric and hybrid cars can use to hop cross country 40 miles at a time, if need be.  Such a network will let even the early model electrics we have now go anywhere in the country, painstakingly at first to be sure, but with better and better success as time goes by.

Electricity is a unique form of energy.  It alone makes possible a market in which small players can coexist with large.  Electricity is therefore our most democratic form of energy.  No liquid fuel can compete in this regard.  They all tend to make the public dependent on fuel elites, leading to all sorts of mischief.  Look at how powerful the fossil fuel industry has become.  It has enmeshed the Republican party in a cloud of irrational climate denial, a cloud filled with folks who enjoy the fruits of science every day of the week, yet are somehow inspired to dismiss and disparage scientists when it comes to climate.

We can use the electric road to create a rational energy future for ourselves.  While early electric charging stations will be slow, a cascade of improvements will come in time.  Eventually, these improvements won’t just apply to a set of roads, but to the nation as a whole.  By insisting on the creation of the electric road we can launch our country in a new and fundamentally better direction.

The electric road is our best chance to put America back on her economic feet and help restore the middle class.  The Interstate highway may be the largest infrastructure investment EVER made.  It is a jewel at the heart of the nation’s workbench, a colossal archimedean lever mighty enough to give us a place to stand and move the world.  The electric road is an idea who’s time has come, an idea capable of turning heads around the globe in a new direction, toward a new horizon and a brighter tomorrow.

No one in this election cycle has proposed creating Interstate 2.0.  But it’s too important an idea to leave to politicians.  As citizens who care about the future of our country, we need to push this idea ourselves.  Hundreds of billions of dollars fly out of the pockets of ordinary Americans each year paying for gas, much of it bound overseas.  An electric road would re-route much of that money, keeping it in America in our pockets instead, strengthening both the nation’s and our personal economies.

Electrifying the Interstate will eventually drive down gas prices.  I see no reason the "electric gallon" won’t sell for a dollar someday, even less.  But the electric road is more than a path to cheap gas.  It’s a way to address global warming, which is far worse than most now think!  Over the past century fossil fuel combustion has been poisoning plants worldwide.  We’ve put the forests of the world on a pack-a-day habit, and it’s caused them to stop fixing carbon as they normally do.  We need trees to breathe deeply so they can suck CO2 out of the sky.  Instead here we are, gagging the forests with our exhaust, making things worse instead!  Not good!!

Thus any plan to combat climate change MUST include the retirement of the internal combustion engine as a way of doing business.  The longer we wait to stop burning gas as a way to get around, the more hellish life on earth will become.  It’s that simple.  The Electric Road can not only help to heal our economic woes, but steer civilization onto a better climate path.  It’s a win-win.

The jury is more than “in” on the science of global warming.  Every year for a decade now, the predictions have only grown more dire.  If anything, things are worse than we think and the time to act is shorter than we suspect.  America is being attacked by evil weather NOW, not in some dim future.  We are already taking casualties!  If we want our kids to have a decent planet to live on, we need to act NOW.  We can start by recognizing that it’s late in the game, and we need to get on the stick.

America desperately needs to reinvent herself.  Here’s how the Electric Road can make that happen:

PROPOSED: AN ELECTRIC INTERSTATE HIGHWAY ACT
In order to speed market acceptance of electric cars the Federal Government should call for the creation of national standards designed to promote a network of electric-capable roads, meaning highways capable of supplying cars with the electric equivalent of gasoline.  These electric-road standards should include. . .

   LEGACY CHARGING STANDARD
The objective of the Legacy charging standard is to provide support for older and existing electric and hybrid cars.  At this stage we’re talking about stations using household or 220 volt current.  The worst case scenario would be to hop cross-country 40 miles at a time on a limited battery.  Building a network of legacy charging stations will make this modest beginning a reality.

When paying for electricity on the road we should try to automate the billing process, and make buying juice like anything else on the internet.  A wireless adapter for charging stations would also be welcome, especially a system older car owners can participate in by getting a retrofit kit for their cars.  A wireless approach should make it possible to juice up your vehicle simply by parking in a charger-equipped spot.

   FUTURE CHARGING STANDARDS
As the pace of market development and technological change progresses, opportunities will emerge for newer charging systems.  For example, rumor has it that domestic auto makers are working on a system which will charge a car in 15 minutes.  Sounds great!  Over time it’s likely several future charging standards will emerge as technology improves.

   NATIONAL ROAD BATTERY STANDARD
The purpose of a national road battery standard is to support a network of electric "filling stations" based on an interchangeable battery.  We know it’s possible to create the electric equivalent of a "filling station" because an Israeli entrepreneur named Shai Agassi  has already done it!  You can see it in action here:

Better Place Electric Car Switching Station
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8nTAjVaa7Y

A network of electric "filling stations" like the one shown in this video can only work if everyone uses an interchangeable battery–hence the need for a national standard!  Companies can still push competing technologies for how the electricity is created or stored, but the form factor must be standardized.  That’s the only way you can be sure a fresh battery will fit your car when you pull into an electric station.

But because vehicles vary so much by weight and load, a One-Size-Fits-All approach could be problematic.  So a modular system in which several battery sizes could be used interchangeably might be desirable.  For example a clever system which could juggle these three batteries might go a long way to keeping everyone happy:

1x Capacity  (Motorcycle),   4x Capacity  (Sedan),   8x Capacity  (Small Truck)

A national road battery standard would help create a market in moveable electricity.  America is blessed with abundant mix of renewable energy resources which could supply the electricity needed to power the electric road.  A large area stretching from southern California through much of the southwest holds major promise as a source of baseline solar power.  A huge area in the middle of the country stretching from Texas to Montana is also a major source of wind power.

A standard road battery would invite the formation of a power market in which small players can coexist with large companies.  People with land in the windy Midwest will enjoy the prospect of generating income by using a few windmills to charge standard road batteries.  The electric road will create a robust market for such batteries, one which ordinary Americans as well as large corporations will be able to profit from, if only because every dollar’s worth of energy from domestic renewable energy resources is one more dollar Americans get to keep.

   WIRELESS ELECTRIC HIGHWAY STANDARD
The ability to conduct wireless power transmission on the highway would solve a host of problems.  A few years ago researchers at MIT came up with a promising technique to transmit power wirelessly over short distances.  A company named WiTricity was spun off from this activity and they are now working with Audi to develop a wireless charging station for electric cars.  The system only transfers power to devices which use a matching operational  frequency.  Unless the frequency of the sender and receiver match on both ends, no power is transferred.  So it should be possible to build an electric road which will power vehicles wirelessly without creating a danger to people or animals who might walk across it.  For those interested in exploring how this technology works, WITRICITY’s home page can be found here:

WITRICITY
http://www.witricity.com/index.html

A working Wireless Highway Standard would go a long way to opening up the electric road.  It should be possible to implement a system which will allow automatic account verification and billing.  In the final analysis creating the electric road will also involve updating our old electric grid.  Most analysts recognize our need to move past the legacy patchwork our current grid is based on.  The development of the electric road will only increase our need to update to a smart grid.  We can’t hope to fully develop one system without addressing the need to upgrade the other.  So the need to reinvent the electric grid is really a plus, not a minus.  It’s an opportunity to address a problem we need to confront anyway, and yet another reason to build Interstate 2.0.

This dream of Eisenhower, this crown of roads, this peerless jewel which keeps America moving is a critical asset in America’s economic future.  It’s a golden key we can decide to turn at any time.  Doing so will help us retire the God-awful No-Can-Do stench that rises from Washington these days like the fumes of a fetid swamp.  We must not be denied on this score.  We must insist on progress!

I urge all Americans who long for the health of the country to push for the electric road.  Let’s make petroleum compete openly with electricity on the open road!  Good things will come from it.  While I offer this advice to all Americans, I have little hope Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will welcome this development.  Romney, and Republicans in general, are firmly devoted to Big Oil and a history of global pollution we can no longer afford.  There’s little cause to think they’ll heed this call.

To President Obama I make the following plea:  LEAD OUR COUNTRY, MAN!  Get out in front of this issue and help us invent a future for ourselves!  The electric road is a specific proposal.  It’s a call for an act of concrete progress which awaits a moment of public clarity, a clarity which you, Mr. President, can do much to promote!

Your campaign is also at risk, Mr. President, due to the apathy of the youth who helped elect you in 2008.  Young people need leaders who will push a vision of the future they can understand and see their part in.  Who does that for them in Washington now?  No one!!  What better way for you to regain the attention of the young than to push for the electric road?  "Without vision, the people perish" the Bible tells us.  Most of all, I submit, it’s the young who suffer from a lack of public vision.  Who more than they have need of dreams?  Here is my dream for the future of our country, Mr. President.  Please make use of it!

I’d also like to address the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Throughout time the wealthy have found ways to rob us.  Today it’s happening on a colossal scale.  Without question terrible, indeed systemic, injustice is involved.  But here’s the thing: The wealthy have always been expert at protecting their booty, and we look back at a long history of frustration in which people waited for economic justice which never came.
 
So much time has been spent fighting to set things right to no avail, it sometimes seems like a subtle trap.  For one thing it tends to make the OWS movement dependent on the legal system for a judgment.  After the Supreme Court’s vote for Citizens United, it’s hard to have much faith in that strategy!  My advice is to focus on progress instead.  We must INSIST ON IT, in fact! 

Our first obligation to posterity is to MAKE A DIFFERENCE, to be effective in creating positive change.  Our chance to do that improves if we focus on the right objective and insist on progress achieving it.  I suggest that OWS adopt the electric road as this worthwhile objective, primarily because accomplishing it will reach into the lives of Americans in a profoundly positive way.  The electric road is the best difference we are in a position to make.  It is a nexus event in waiting, one with the potential to touch everyone’s life.  Accomplishing it will do more to improve the fortunes of ordinary Americans than any other initiative now proposed.  The electric road deserves our focus.  It is the road to a future worth having.

Finally I’d like to address the climate deniers:  Shame on you!  Your behavior is adolescent.  Adults don’t shy away from the problems life throws at them, they meet them head on.  Climate change is a fact of life, one which only grows more implacably evident with each passing year.  If anything scientist have under-reported the problem because it has become obvious to this group of largely apolitical people that the hot wind of public irrationality await anyone who dares point out that history’s biggest pollution party is coming to an end, one way or the other.

Denial is easy.  Kids do it all the time.  But by engaging in such behavior you have made yourself a burden to your fellow citizens and your children.  The hellish world produced by your inaction and denial will cause them to curse your name!  Please, no more blather about how global warming is a convoluted government conspiracy.  Children routinely find ways to blame others for facts they find inconvenient, just as you are doing now.

The time to grow up is running out for us all.  Either we must find a workable future we can embrace, or the sickening Earth will decide our future for us.  The Electric Road can be a key part of our workable future.  But the challenge is vast, the stakes unimaginably high.  We need all hands on deck.  Especially yours, Mr. President!

Have Battery, Will Travel

Moving the American road from gasoline to electricity will require radical common sense. Until now the range of electric cars has paled compared to the gas guzzlers we’re use to. But that’s in the process of changing. Recent developments in nanotechnology are leading to new types of batteries which will have far greater capacity and far quicker recharge cycles than current products. AltairNano of Reno Nevada has created technology capable of producing devices which hold three times the charge of current lithium ion batteries, and which recharge in a matter of minutes while operating safely in a wide range of temperatures. Researchers at Stanford recently announced a nanowire technique capable of holding ten times the charge of current generation lithium ion devices. With such power packs, electric cars could eventually surpass gas powered cars in range.

But it will be a few years before these technologies become widespread and cheap. Right now it’s the cost of fancy batteries which makes electric cars so expensive. For a public used to driving 300 miles on a tank of gas, the limited range provided by current electric technology isn’t attractive. How can we overcome the obstacles presented by these limitations? Shai Agassi’s Better Place is a company working to find answers to these questions. One of their more interesting concepts is to establish Battery Exchange Stations for travelers on long journeys. You would drive to a Battery Exchange Station as if it were any gas station. But instead of "filling up" the station would use an automated procedure to swap out your spent battery, and replace it with a charged one. According to Better Place, you’d be on your way with a fresh battery in less than three minutes.

Battery exchange stations are a great idea, one capable of letting electric car drivers go on long journeys. But we should take the concept a step further by establishing government standards for Universal Road Batteries, or URBs. Such standards would be designed to let owners of different electric cars share common battery types. The idea is to promote the interoperability we now take for granted when fueling our cars. It doesn’t matter what kind of car you drive today: a two seat sports car, a sedan, SUV, or pickup truck. You can go from coast to coast knowing that in every state you can pull into a gas station where the pump will work with your car, and what comes out will get you on your way. So the URB isn’t a radical concept, but a way to give electric cars the same freedom to operate over long distances that gasoline provides us with now.

URBs would also help us make sense of renewables. Solar and wind are intermittent sources of energy. In power company lingo this type of energy is known as non-dispatchable, meaning that when the energy is available, the grid either needs to accept it, or it will be lost. This differs from traditional forms of energy like coal or oil which stick around until we decide to use them. So a key factor in adopting renewable energy sources is the ability to store that energy when it’s available. URBs would fulfill this objective in spades, and in the process provide a huge incentive to develop renewable energy. Millions of interchangeable electric car batteries would represent an energy sink of formidable proportions, one which would provide instant justification to tap the sun and wind to make electricity.

Unlike traditional forms of energy, much of this activity could take place on a decentralized basis by ordinary people. Having a widely practiced Universal Road Battery standard will help every family with a wind machine or solar roof panel power their own car. People with spare acreage in windy states will have an incentive to start their own wind farms, knowing they can "sell gas" to cross country electric car drivers in the form of URBs. And unlike current day gas station owners, these people won’t be passing most of the profit on to a giant corporation. That’s the thing about an electric-renewable economy which won’t be true for other forms of energy. Both the big and the small will get to play. We’ll have the best competition of all, the kind that lets you make something for yourself when someone else decides to overcharge for it! That’s supposed to be what capitalism is all about. It won’t hurt our democracy one bit either!

An End To Fuelishness

There is a great deal of debate today about how we should power our cars. Most recognize by now that the petro-diet we’ve been on is unsustainable in the long run. It’s hazardous to the environment, and given America’s dependence on foreign oil, it’s also impoverishing our country. But while gasoline may have lost it’s luster in the eyes of social planners, there are many champions of liquid fuel champing at the bit to take its place. I am here to argue that a major key to our energy future lies in spurning them all, and moving straight to electricity. It’s time to put an end to fuelishness!

We should look to abandon liquid fuels in general. For one thing, they’re socially regressive. They make us dependent on the powerful minority that delivers the fuel. We will all pay extra at the pump for empowering a new generation of fuel masters. Liquid fuels also require distribution systems which are enormously expensive to build and maintain. In the case of hydrogen, the existing system of refineries and gas stations is largely useless. A new system would have to be built at huge expense. Who would ultimately be asked to foot that bill? Ordinary customers, that’s who! Biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel pose fewer infrastructure problems. But all forms of liquid fuel require wasting huge amounts of energy simply to move the stuff around where people can use it. Then there’s the safety question. Is it really a good idea to mix fleets of gas trucks with normal passenger traffic? That’s an issue ethanol can only make worse, as it ignites more easily than gasoline.

Many who recognize the problems of hydrogen will argue for various biofuels. But biofuels have their own problems. Using corn to produce ethanol may be great for corn farmers, but it’s not going to solve our energy dilemma. Growing corn is itself a fossil fuel intensive process. So the net energy payback from ethanol isn’t good. According to Cornell University scientist David Pimentel, it takes 1.3 gallons of oil to produce one gallon of Ethanol! Ethanol also diverts land from food production and is already driving up food prices. Switch grass is a better alternative than corn, but with the potential exception of algae, all methods of making biofuel will require huge tracts of land to supply a significant portion of current energy demand.

Changes in land use inspired by biofuel initiatives are increasingly raising alarm with climate change activists. Brazilians have cut down huge sections of the Amazon rain forest to cultivate sugar cane for ethanol. Similarly, large areas of Asian peat lands are being converted to Palm oil plantations to make biofuels. Scientist are warning that these activities may release many times more carbon into the atmosphere than will be saved by the modest greenhouse gas improvement ethanol provides. Fixing our energy problem at the price of losing the war on global warming isn’t a road we can afford to take. Replacing gasoline with biofuels is not the answer to our problems.

As if these reasons weren’t enough, engines powered by liquid fuels are incapable of running efficiently. Heat Engines, which is what combustion engines are, are doomed by basic thermodynamic laws to be inefficient at normal temperatures. The only environment in which heat engines can be truly efficient is far too cold for humans to survive. Gasoline, ethanol, biodiesel, natural gas–it doesn’t matter. They are all doomed to be wasteful. In practice, combustion engine vehicles succeed in using less that a third of their fuel energy to produce motion. The rest goes out the radiator, tailpipe, or is bled off as waste heat. This is a matter of basic scientific law, and beyond debate. As a result no strategy aimed at achieving real energy efficiency can survive the widespread use of combustion engines. The same is true of any strategy which hopes to defeat global warming. If we are truly serious about fixing these problems, we need to end our reliance on the combustion engine. It’s that simple.

Electricity is the solution to our energy problem. The development of batteries capable of driving a generation of electric cars Americans can be happy with is well underway. Nanotechnology is in the process of radically extending the range of electric cars with batteries that can recharge in a few minutes. Unlike biofuels, electric cars don’t produce 80% of gasoline’s emissions: they have ZERO emissions! While heat engines are stuck well under 50% efficiency, a well maintained electric car can be 90% efficient. As Intel’s founder Andy Grove points out, electricity will also provide a unique flexibility in handling our energy problems. It can be produced from many sources, including solar and wind. It can be transmitted with virtually instant speed across the landscape. Unlike hydrogen or natural gas, we won’t have to completely rebuild our delivery system to accommodate electric cars. The national electric grid as it exists today is already capable of moving us in the right direction. Yes, the grid will need to be augmented as electric demand grows. But there’s no reason this can’t happen in an orderly fashion in the years to come. Current initiatives by the fledgling Obama administration are already beginning to lay the groundwork for the smart grid of the future.

To replace liquid fuels, the electric game plan will rely on a bridge technology called the hybrid car, a type of vehicle which combines a traditional gas engine with a rechargeable electric storage system. Hybrids have existed for some years, and are currently manufactured by several companies. Hybrids use several techniques to extend gas mileage, significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the process. The plug-in hybrid, which owners can recharge at home, represents the next step, leading eventually to the all electric car. Over the coming years, this progression will provide a clear path traditional car manufacturers can take to help us evolve an electric future.

During this period there will be many temptations to extend our long reliance on liquid fuels. But it is critical that we not allow ourselves to be distracted from the goal of an electric future. In order to fend off catastrophic climate change, there can be no place for widespread use of liquid fuels. Either we stop dumping massive amounts of carbon dioxide in the sky, or we will pass on a sickened planet to our children. The electric car is the one way for us all to keep driving and avoid that outcome. The alternative is catastrophe.

Energy Illusions

As the sun sets on the cheap oil era, the need to focus on alternatives to fossil fuels has become increasingly apparent. During this period the public has been offered some persistent misconceptions about the nature of the problem, and what we should do to solve it. In general we tend to oversimplify the nature of the challenge we’re facing, identifying it merely as the need to come up with new sources of fuel.

What’s really going is much more profound than running out of gas–it’s a crisis of sustainability, a test of our overall way of life. The consequences of the “limitless growth” model that’s driven industrial economies for the last century is swiftly catching up with us. We’re overproducing and overcomsuming ourselves into oblivion. Clinging to the old model can only result in a series of destructive resource wars and hasten the pace of catastrophic climate change. Throwaway culture is no longer a luxury we can afford. If we fail to break our old economic habits it will be “our world” that will be thrown out! That process is already underway, and gaining momentum.

Here is a quick checklist of popular misconceptions about the energy crisis:

The energy crisis is a separate problem unto itself. – It isn’t! The energy crisis is bound up with larger questions about the sustainability of our prevailing growth model of economic activity. We need to recognize that our headlong consumption of fossil fuel is overheating the planet. If we want society to endure for the long term we need to question the cancerous logic of limitless growth, and learn to live within our means. This is especially true for the most prolific overconsumers on the planet: Americans!

The earth is running out of oil, and fossil fuel in general. – It’s not! Huge reservoirs of fossil fuels exist, enough to meet current levels of demand for many decades to come. There are enormous reserves in the form of coal, tar sands, and methane hydrate deposits. What is coming to an end is the supply of cheap fossil fuel. We can get at the remaining reserves of fossil fuel, but doing so will be increasingly expensive and have unpleasant consequences.

Lack of fuel is the most pressing limit posed by this energy crisis. – Wrong! There is plenty of material to produce fuel from, if we’re willing to pay the price. The most pressing limit we face concerning energy use is the amount of carbon we can dump into the atmosphere! Current economic activity is already helping to melt Greenland’s ice pack. The process has been underway for years and is accelerating. As Greenland’s ice goes, it will raise global sea levels by twenty feet. The homes of over half the human race will be inundated in the process. You do the math!

The problem can be fixed by finding more fuel to meet demand. – It can’t! Part of the problem is we’re consuming too much energy to maintain climatic stability. In the case of Americans the per capita rate of consumption is far too high. It makes no sense to try and sustain our way of life without asking ourselves if that way of life is sustainable to start with. The earth isn’t going to adapt itself to our habits. Instead we need to adapt our habits to our home in space. We must ask ourselves hard questions about the kinds of activity we can reasonably expect to sustain over the long haul here on planet Earth.

The Hydrogen Economy will solve our problems.It won’t! Elemental hydrogen isn’t a source of energy. Unlike oil it doesn’t occur naturally but has be “manufactured” instead. In effect hydrogen is a form of energy storage, not a fuel source. It can’t help us replace dwindling oil supplies.

Ethanol can be used to replace gasoline.Not going to happen! Like hydrogen, ethanol isn’t a fuel source, but a form of energy storage. Besides, don’t we need the corn ethanol is made from to feed people? Can we morally justify starving people to produce fuel? Finally, the corporate agriculture which produces the corn ethanol is derived from is itself hugely dependent on fossil fuels.

Renewable energy can’t solve the energy crisis. – This is one of two lies large corporations promote about renewable energy. The truth is that renewable energy can be most effectively pursued as a set of decentralized grassroots solutions by ordinary citizens. But that’s a path which will break down the centralized control big energy and utility companies have over their customers. So while they pay lip service to renewable energy sources they package the concept as something complicated that needs further study, something that’s beyond the reach of regular people. This leads us to lie number two. . .

Renewable energy solutions are large and complex. – Big corporations visualize energy solutions as large highly centralized projects because it mirrors their desire to maintain centralized economic control. So corporations tends to think of a solar solution as something that looks like this, or a wind solution that look like this. These kinds of projects are clearly too expensive for ordinary people to participate in. To the extent that we accept such ideas we’ll be turned off to the notion of solving the energy crisis for ourselves, one household at a time. Of course this is exactly what big companies want.

What we need is the right fuel to replace gasoline. – This is another corporate friendly falsehood. The reason solutions like hydrogen and ethanol get a lot of attention in the press is that they maintain the current paradigm: energy needed to drive our cars can only be produced by large corporations using highly centralized production and distribution systems to deliver fuel. The problem is that the existing corporate system has been built on a “found object”–vast reservoirs of cheap oil pumped out of the ground at low cost. But unlike oil neither hydrogen nor ethanol is an energy source. You have to consume other energy sources to produce them. So it’s very unlikely hydrogen or ethanol will ever drive the creation of another centralized system like the one cheap oil gave rise to. The real solution is to bypass fuel altogether, and go straight to electricity. Electricity is an ideal form of energy for transportation. This fact has been repeatedly demonstrated, most recently by a car produced by Tesla Motors. What they’ve produced isn’t your Dad’s electric car–it does zero to sixty in four seconds!

In a future post I will address how we can really solve the energy crisis, and wean America off foreign oil in one generation.

(Originally posted by R. Guenette on 09.11.06)