A US Energy Plan – What are the Issues to Consider?

11 Jan

Below are some questions that have been asked by opponents of Northern Pass to us. Where does opposition to NP fit into the current status of energy and policy in the US? First we must ask the questions and then find the solutions. Here, we are posing some of the questions. Our questions may be wrong. That’s where you fit in. Tell us what your thoughts are. What additional information do we need/do you need? By understanding some of these issues we may be able to understand current developments including the push to build Northern Pass, its profitability, and beyond that, other developments on the energy front.

Does the US have an energy policy?

Most of us might answer that question with a resounding “no.” Below are questions and issues that should be considered in a US Energy Policy.

Energy Policy:

Does the United States have a consistent and well thought out energy plan, rather than a plan that depends on political expediency and public popularity? Does it address some significant issues regarding energy including vehicle fuel and electricity (what is the source of electricity – currently the vast majority of electricity is still generated by coal in the US?) Does US energy policy take into consideration the exponential use of resources leading to huge shortages over time? What will those shortages be? What is the impact of the use of fossil fuel? Does it address the science of global warming? What current alternatives for energy generation are feasible? How sustainable are those alternatives? What is green and sustainable? Is there a way to maintain and continue a growth model of the economy unless “energy” is dealt with? What will be the impact of current methods (mountain top removal for coal, fracting for gas, shale oil for fuel, large hydro for electricity) that doesn’t jeopardize the long (and perhaps even short term) life on earth?

Is large hydro sustainable and green as claimed by the power companies or rather an expansion of a system and usage that can’t be maintained over time? Why should opponents of Northern Pass be concerned with US energy policy?

How many of us have heard of peak oil? Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline. This concept is based on the observed production rates of individual oil wells, projected reserves and the combined production rate of a field of related oil wells. (Wikipedia)

The wide use of fossil fuels has been one of the most important stimuli of economic growth and prosperity since the industrial revolution, allowing humans to participate in takedown, or the consumption of energy at a greater rate than it is being replaced. Some believe that when oil production decreases, human culture, and modern technological society will be forced to change drastically. The impact of peak oil will depend heavily on the rate of decline and the development and adoption of effective alternatives. If alternatives are not forthcoming, the products produced with oil (including fertilizers, detergents, solvents, adhesives, and most plastics) would become scarce and expensive. (Wikipedia)

What are the consequences of peak oil in an energy plan? How long can we continue to use fossil fuels? Have we reached the point where extraction of oil is more costly than we can afford? At what point will the extraction of fossil fuels be so costly it will impact our lives and the growth of our economy? Will it ever be totally used up? Is there a way to transition from oil to other methods? How long will we need to plan for a transition if we need to? Will our lives be changed

Note that the availability of a cheap and what has appeared abundant source of energy such as oil has led to the exponential increase in the human population, the exponential increase in the use of natural resources, and the exponential increase in the growth of our economy.

What do we mean by exponential increase? (We’ve all played this game where someone will ask us would we prefer to get 1 penny the first day and double it each day for a month or receive $600. Take the penny and double it! You can’t go wrong. That’s what exponential means. (Exponential – accelerated growth from 1 to 2, 2 to 4, 4 to 8, 8 to 16, 26 to 32, 32 to 64, 64 to 128, 128-256, where the later stage appears as an explosion by doubling.) The risk in ignoring an exponential increase is that it only becomes obvious near the end of the chain of increases. Thomas Robert Malthus predicted that population will increase in just such a way which seems to be the case as number of people have skyrocketed in just the last 25 years.)

Technology. Many people believe that technology and human ingenuity solve all problems with energy. Is it possible to find transition fuels and sources of power that will bridge the gap from current sources of power to an unknown future? Will such a transition be painless?

Transportation. The history of human civilization is one of energy history. From chopping wood for heat to huge industries of whale oil for fuel, such sources have shaped human civilizations. The British Empire was based on coal. Coal fueled the industrial revolution. Liquid oil is a relatively recent fuel (late 19th and 20th centuries. Before oil, human transportation was by railroad (coal) and horse (carriages and horses) or boats along specific waterways. For millennium humans walked everywhere or if they lived in specific parts of the country used local pack animals such as elephants, camels etc.

Lights and electricity. As mentioned, coal was the main source of electricity fueling machinery that increased the labor of humans so that what over 100 humans could do in one day, only one could do using coal fueled electricity. Fuel, electricity and gasoline liberated human beings to create a more complex civilization as they had increased time to for pursuits beyond filling basic human needs such as growing food, etc.

So do we need an energy policy? Are things changing? Is their peak oil? Is their climate change? Can conservation and energy efficiency moderate the impact of a diminishing source of energy? What is the place for large hydro? Do we continue to deface the earth to develop diminishing sources of energy?

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Posted by on January 11, 2012 in Uncategorized


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